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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


http://www.gdaf.org/

Plainchant The Chants of Christmas
Christmas Masses and The Marian Antiphons
Ad Missam in Vigila

Introit: Hodie scietis
Gradual: Hodie scietis
Alleluia: Crastina die
Offertory: Tollite portas
Communion: Revelabitur
Ad Missam in Nocte

Introit: Dominus dixit
Gradual: Tecum principium
Alleluia: Dominus dixit
Offertory: Laetentur caeli
Communion: In splendoribus
Ad Missam in Aurora

Introit: Lux fulgebit
Gradual: Benedictus qui venit
Alleluia: Dominus regnavit
Offertory: Deus enim firmavit
Communion: Exsulta filia Sion
Ad Missam in Die

Introit: Puer natus est nobis
Gradual: Viderunt omnes
Alleluia: Dies sanctificatus
Offertory: Tui sunt coeli
Communion: Viderunt omnes
Alma redemptoris mater
Ave regina coelorum
Regina coeli
Salve Regina
Gloriae Dei Cantores Schola/Richard J. Pugsley
Recorded 1992
GLORIAE DEI CANTORES GDCD 005 [72.03]

 

This disc contains the Propers of the Masses for Christmas Day along with 8 Antiphons to the Blessed Virgin Mary; 28 items in all on a disc lasting over 72 minutes. It is quite tricky holding such programme of short items together with nothing to bind them. I did wonder whether performing fewer items, but binding them together with the Ordinary of the Mass would have made for more coherent programming. I feel that punctuation supplied by performing the Ordinary along with the Propers is the most satisfactory way of presenting this Chant, and this is something that Gloriae Dei Cantores have done on other discs.

The CD booklet informs us that 'The foundation of their interpretation in this recording is three-fold: the rhythmic marks of the Laon MS (Biblothèque minucipale, 239) according to the studies of Dom Eugène Cardine; the implications of modality; and the corporate experience of using the chant for daily worship since 1976'. Regrettably they do not expand on this rather gnomic statement, which leaves the average listener unenlightened about what, if any, differences there are between the singing of the Schola and contemporary practice in performing chant. (In fact Dom Eugène Cardine and the Solemes school have emphasised the natural word rhythm as the basis for chant rather than purely metrical approach) This is the only real musical substance in the booklet; it does not provide any information about the musical background to the chant. The booklet includes texts and translations for all the chant, but what background there is, is a religious one. This is very admirable, but surely the booklet's editors should have considered their wider audience. It is fascinating to know that the Christmas Day Feast is the only Feast in the Church calendar with 4 masses (Vigil, Night, Dawn and Daytime) and that the current Feast arose out of the celebrations after the Council of Ephasus in 432. But couldn't we have been given some information about how this, musically, affects the chants that are sung. As far as the style of singing the plainchant goes, it is done pretty much in the way that I was taught and there are no real surprises.

The choir sing the Propers for the four Christmas Masses (Missam in Vigilia, Missam in Nocte, Missam in Aurora, Missam in Die). These are followed by they Marian Antiphons, 'Alma redemptoris mater', 'Ave regina coelorum', 'Regina coeli', 'Salve regina'. Each of these is given twice, using Simple Tones and Solemn Tones.

Gloriae Dei Cantores are a Massachusetts based choir numbering around 40, with female Altos. They are a church based, non-professional choir, singing weekly services. The Gloriae Dei Cantores Schola is a 16-person group dedicated to singing Gregorian Chant. They have been singing plainchant regularly since 1976, both the daily Benedictine Monastic Offices and the Ordinary and Proper of the Mass. They sing in an admirably flexible manner with beautiful diction.

But, just how unanimous should chant be, especially on a recording? Here, both the men and the women exhibit small lapses in unanimity which cause the line to lack the firmness it needs. In performance this would not matter. But here, on a recording, every lapse is noticeable. Speeds are generally on the brisk side. This is quite admirable and stops the chant becoming ponderous, but does lead to a little untidiness. Attack is generally on the firm side and sometimes I found myself wishing for something a little more gentle and spiritual, especially from the men's voices. The lovely little Introit for the Missam in Nocte, 'Dominus dixit ad me' with its rather tender rocking motion, is here given a rather robust performance that seems to miss the point.

But in the end, we come back to the format of the disc. By the last track, no matter how admirably sung, I would have liked a little variety. Surely we would have appreciated the Propers more if fewer of them had been recorded and they had been offset by parts of the Ordinary of the Mass and some chanted Lessons. After all, this is how this music is supposed to be appreciated. After listening to this recording you rather feel like you have eaten too many truffles, a surfeit of good things.

Robert Hugill

 



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