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Gregorian Feast
In Festo Sanctissimi Corporis et Sanguinis Christi (Feast of Corpus Christi)
Introit: Cibavit eos
Gradual: Ocui Omnium
Offertory: Sacerdotes Domini
Communion: Quotiescumque Manducat
In Navitate Domini, Ad Missam in Die (Nativity of Our Lord, Mass during the day)
Introit: Puer Natus est nobis
Gradual: Viderunt omnes
Offertory: Tui sunt caeli
Communion: Viderunt omnes
In Epiphany Domini (Feast of the Epiphany)
Introit: Ecce Advenit dominator
Gradual: Omnes de Saba
Offertory: Reges Tharsis
Communion: Vidimus stellam
Dies Irae (1)
In Assumptionis B. Mariae Virginis, Ad Missam in Die (Feast of the Assumption, Mass during the day)
Introit Gaudeamus omnes
Gradual: Propter venitatem
Offertory: Assumpta est Maria
Communion: Optimam partem
S. Andrea Apostoli (Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle)
Introit: Mihi autem nimis
Gradual: Constitues eos
Offertory: Mihi autem nimis
Communion: Venite post me
Commune Unius Martyrir non Pontificis (Propers for the feast of a non Episcopal martyr)
Introit: Invirtute tuam
Gradual: Beatus Vir
Offertory: Gloria et honore
Communion: Qui vult venire post me
Pro Cantione Antiqua (James Griffett, Ian Partridge, Gordon Jones, Brian Etheridge, Michael George, Adrian Peacock)
Stephen Roberts (cantor) (1)
rec. October 1991, St. Jude’s Church, Hampstead; February 1990, All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak; November 1992, St. Jude’s Church, Hampstead
REGIS RECORDS RRC 1217 [65.13]

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Pro Cantione Antiqua were formed in 1968 to perform music of the medieval, Renaissance and Baroque eras. A particular feature of many of their recordings of sacred polyphony was the use of male voices for all four parts. Over the years they have been joined by a succession of distinguished names, Michael George, Ian Partridge, James Bowman, Stephen Roberts, David Thomas and Paul Elliot. A link between many of the members of the group was that they had begun their singing careers in the choir of Westminster Cathedral under Colin Mawby and so were familiar with the regular use of plainchant.

This disc assembles recordings, made in the early 1990s, of the propers for six Feast Days in the Church’s year. In addition the group performs the Dies Irae and the Hymn Aeterna Christi Munera (on which Palestrina based one of his best known masses).

Propers of the mass are the Biblical texts which are sung at specific points in the service and which are particular to the day, date  and time of the service. As opposed to the Ordinary of the Mass which comprised the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei, the texts of which were fixed and did not vary from mass to mass. Propers are performed at the opening of the mass, Introit, after the first reading, Gradual, before the Gospel, Alleluia, during the offertory, Offertory, and during communion, Communion. On this disc the group omit the Alleluias but perform the other four propers for each of the feasts.

Pro Cantione Antiqua perform in a good straightforward style with not too much over-pointing. Their delivery is accurate and efficient, always musical and shapely. On these recordings the group consists of just six singers (plus Stephen Roberts as cantor on the Dies Irae). They are recorded in suitable acoustics; they are not too closely miked and the acoustic is not overwhelming but the recording remains atmospheric, giving something of the ‘feel’ of the church. Where the group misses out is in a sense of intense sacredness and the sheer naturalness that comes from singing chant every day. This is something which the various recordings made in Monasteries can bring to this repertoire. Such recordings of monks may not always have the high musical values which this ensemble brings to the music, but monastic groups often demonstrate the sheer religious power of the chant and the naturalness that comes from singing together every day.

For those not intimately familiar with the repertoire, this disc might present problems. The booklet includes an illuminating essay on plainchant in general along with a short discussion of the feasts celebrated on the disc. But no texts are printed, either in Latin or in translation. With one exception, all of the propers are referred to by their function (Introit, Gradual etc.) rather than their text, so I was sent scurrying off to my Roman Gradual (I happen to sing in a Latin mass choir on Sunday mornings, so I possess such books) to check what the texts actually were; though it must be said that the group’s diction is so good that you can make out 90% of the Latin without the help of a book. But once I had consulted my Roman Gradual I discovered another interesting (or annoying) fact. The version of the propers being performed was not that of the current Roman Gradual - which post-dates the changes made at the 2nd Vatican Council. Unfortunately the booklet fails to tell us which versions of the propers are being performed. This might seem like nit-picking, but without such details you can’t help feeling that this very reasonably priced disc has been produced with something of an eye on the new age/background music chant market ... and that is to do these recordings a major disservice.

This disc is highly recommendable for anyone who wants good straightforward chant singing. Pro Cantione Antiqua are always mellifluous and always shapely and never fail to be musical. I feel churlish for wanting more.

Robert Hugill



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