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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger

Brillliant Classics

Music Gregoriana Noel
PLAINCHANT: Conditor Alme Siderum; Rorate Caeli Desuper; O Sapientia; Alme Redemptoris Mater; Ave Maria; Christe Redemptor Omnium; Hodie Nobis Caelorum Rex; Puer Natus est Nobis; Kyrie VIII; Gloria VIII; Viderunt Omnes and Allelia Dies Sanctificatus; Tui Sunt Caeli; Sanctus VIII; Agnus Dei VIII; Viderunt Omens; Ite Missa Est; Verbum Caro Factum Est; Hodie Christus Natus Est; Video Caelos Apertos; Salvette Flores Martyrym; Hostis Herodes; Reges Tharsis; Tribus Miraculis; Lumen ad Revelationem Gentium; Adorna Thalamum Tuum
Pro Cantione Antiqua

This is a recital of Gregorian Chant on the theme of Christmas, with chant for Advent and Christmas imaginatively selected and arranged into a programme. Unfortunately whatever planning and selection that went into producing the recital is undermined by the lack of a programme booklet with an explanation of the background behind the chants. All you have is a bald list of names.

The recital opens with the Advent Vespers hymn 'Conditor Alme Siderum' followed by the antiphon 'Rorate Coeli Desuper' from the 4th Sunday in Advent. Then the great O antiphon 'O Sapientia' is performed along with its accompanying Magnificat, followed by the Alma Redemptoris Mater and an Ave Maria, the offertory for the 4th Sunday in Advent. These are followed by the Christmas Vespers hymn 'Christe Redemptor Omnium' and the Christmas Responsory 'Hodie Nobies Caelorum Rex'.

The centrepiece of the programme is a performance of the 3rd Mass for Christmas Day, performing both the Propers and the Ordinary (using the Missa de Angelis) and concluding with the Ite Missa Est. The mass is preceded by a group of Advent items with a strong Marian theme.

After the mass are a group of chants which reflect the other feasts in the Octave of the Nativity. These include 'Hodie Christus Natus est', - the Magnificat Antiphon for the Nativity, 'Video Caelos Apertus' - the Communion for the Feast of St. Stephen, 'Salvetes Flores Martyrum' - the Vespers Hymn for the Feast of Holy Innocents, the Antiphon 'Hostis Herodes', 'Reges Tharsis' - the Offertory of the Feast of the Epiphany, 'Tribulis Miraculis' - the Magnificat Antiphon for the Feast of Epiphany. and ending with Presentation at the Temple.

Pro Cantione Antique are an all-male group, singing the chant in unison. They make a fine, warm sound and are recorded in a good acoustic. The chant, both words and music, remains clear but the voices are surrounded by the warm aura of the church's acoustic. They sing in an admirably clear and unified manner, without the slightest hint of lack of unanimity of line. The role of cantor is allocated to a number of different soloists depending on the vocal range and they all acquit themselves admirably.

The chant is sung in a very sober, regular, metrical manner and I must confess that, listened to in one sitting, this starts to pall. I would have liked more flexibility of line, but in its way their robust unison is entirely admirable. Though the diction is excellent, I felt there was not always a good feeling for the words. This group is made up of excellent musicians, but their performance never really feels as if they have been doing this all their life. That is the problem with recording plainchant. No matter how excellent the musicians, you need to give the music that something extra that only experience can bring.

Of course, there is a trade-off. On the Gloriae Dei Cantores disc, the Gloriae Dei Cantores Schola are conducted by Dr. Mary Berry in a programme of Christmas Chant which covers very similar ground. Here they sing with admirable flexibility and commitment - the group sing chant regularly at Mass and Vespers. Where their repertoire overlaps with this disc, such as with the antiphon 'Lumen ad Revelationem Gentium', they impress with the vibrancy of their performance. You really do feel as if the group has been singing chant forever, but the down-side is that sometimes their line lacks unanimity and the solo voices are not perfect. I am happy to make this trade-off. If perfection of the musical line is important to you, then I can recommend this disc, but you might need a Roman Gradual to work out what is being sung.

Robert Hugill


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