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Plainchant: Gaudeamus omnes in Domino [3.55]; Kyrie magnae Deus potentiae [2.19]; Laetatus sum [2.57]; Alleluia Vir dei Benedictus [3.44]; Ovans Chorus Scholarium [2.06]; Jubilate Deo universa terra [3.36]; Gaudate et laetare [2.09]; Ego autem  [3.10]; Kyrie Cunctipotens Genitor Deus [3.36]; In te speravi Domine, Introduction, Antiphona ad offertorium [4.56]; Sanctus Phos Patris Caritas [3.13]; Amen dico vobis [2.43]; Hodie progreditur [1.01]; Benedicamus Domino [0.45]
John VOIROL (b.1958) Let everyone rejoice the Lord [2.10]; Let us go to the house of the Lord [3.47]; Alleluja, Benedict, the Man of God [2.59]; The Boy’s Choir praises [1.52]; Let all the Earth praise God [3.09]; Rejoice and praise [2.40]; Universe, Stars, Infinity [2.41]; Invocation, Prayer, Answer [3.42]
John Voirol (soprano; alto saxophone)
Roland von Flue (tenor saxophone; bass clarinet)
Thomas Mejer (baritone; contrabass saxophone)
Schola Romana Lucernensis/Father Roman Bannwart
rec. 28-29 November 2003, Propsei St. Gerold, Vorarlberg



This new disc from Musiques Suisses mixes Gregorian chant and jazz. But anyone will be disappointed if they expect the sort of mélange produced by the Hilliard Ensemble and Jan Garbarek. Here jazz saxophonist John Voirol, whose concept the album is, has produced a series of jazz pieces written for his saxophone trio. These pieces alternate with and comment upon Gregorian chant sung by the Schola Romana Lucernensis.

The link between the two groups is Father Roman Bannwart, who is choir-master of Einsiedeln Monastery, director of the Schola Romana Lucernensis and a professor at Lucerne Music Academy. Voirol is also a professor at Lucerne Music Academy and he and Father Bannwart have worked together on a number of projects since 1997. These have juxtaposed jazz and plainchant, sometimes bringing the two together.

On this disc, the Schola sing fourteen pieces taken from the Codex Einsidlensis 121, Codex Engelberg 314 and Codex Beromunster. The Codex Einsidlensis 121 contains two- and three- part tropes such as the impressive Kyrie magnae Deus potentiae, Ovans chorus scholarium and Benedicamus Domino.

The Schola’s singing of these is measured and firm. They lack the element of fantasy that a smaller group might bring to these pieces, but they sing with a remarkable unanimity. They create the sort of impression of uniform and firmness of purpose which is what we anticipate from a group of monks who would sing the music on a daily basis. The Schola includes men and women, for much of the time singing alternim.

In just two pieces, they are joined by saxophones. In Kyrie magnae Deus potentiae one of the saxophones contributes a low drone to the organum and in Kyrie cunctipotens genitor Deus, a saxophone contributes the simpler chant which is alternated with the more complex tropes sung by the choir.

John Voirol’s pieces are intended to be comments on these pieces, their English titles relate directly to the Latin sung by the choir. But Voirol does not give us plainchant directly. Some pieces, such as Let everyone rejoice the Lord and  Let all the Earth praise God seem to contain fragments of chant motives embedded in their forms.

But often, Voirol’s pieces seem to relate to the meaning of the words rather than the contemplative nature of the chant itself. So Universe, Stars, Infinity is a highly violent reaction to the preceding Kyri cunctipotens genitor Deus; the jazz conjures up images of the infinite from the title.

Much of the jazz is melodic tonal but Alleluia, Benedict, the Man of God, is advanced jazz full of squeaks and wails.

Which brings us to a fundamental problem with this disc; for lovers of plainchant there is probably too much jazz on the disc. And conversely, for lovers of jazz there is too much plainchant. Only for lovers of both can the two strands engage in the dialogue that the discs’ creators intend.

Personally I found the disc fascinating if not quite as riveting as intended. I found myself looking at the jazz-inspired pieces from a structural point of view, picking at their links to the music of the plainchant. What I did not find in the jazz was the sort of contemplative feel which the best performances of plainchant can bring.

This isn’t for everyone. You have to be interested in both plainchant and modern jazz to get the best out of this disc.

Robert Hugill 





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