The Abbey of St. Joseph de Clairval is, rather
confusingly, based in Flavigny-sur-Ozerain in Burgundy. There was an abbey there from the 7th
century until the French Revolution and the remains of the historic
abbey buildings now house the Anis de Flavigny candles.
The Benedictine community of St. Joseph de Clairval
was founded in 1972 in the Switzerland by Dom Augustin Joly. The community moved to Flavigny
in 1976, settling in the former Minor Seminary of the historic
abbey. It seems to be a thriving community, currently numbering
some fifty members.
The abbey run a commercial enterprise, Traditions
Monastiques, devoted to making the monastic life better
known. Amongst the Icons and books are CDs of plainchant including
a number made live at the abbey itself.
This disc, of plainchant for Pentecost, is a live
recording of the whole community participating in chant for
the mass and for vespers. The disc does rather sound as if someone
has simply set up a recording apparatus and left it running
during the service. The results have a disarming immediacy even
though the recording is not perfect.
The recording has a good atmosphere, giving a strong
impression of the acoustic in which the choir sings; this is
always important on a disc like this. The results are attractive
and warm. But there is a remarkably emphasis on sibilants which
can become a little annoying with repeated listening.
The recording mixes plainchant sung by the entire
community (usually with discrete organ support) with more complex
chants sung just by the schola (the smaller group of monks responsible
for the chant). No indication is given as to the relative size
of these groups and the CD booklet fails to elucidate which
groups sing when. In fact, considering the CD is intended to
enlighten, the booklet is very uninformative, it seems to be
aimed at those who know what is going on. Not attempt is made
to indicate what the different chants are for and no words are
The disc starts with a selection of chant from
the mass. The Introit - Spiritus Domini, Vidi Aquam, Psalmi
ad Tertiam, Kyrie and the Gloria form a natural opening sequence.
The Credo is omitted. We then get the two Alleluias, the Sequence
– Veni Sancte Spiritus, the Offertorium – Confirma hoc, the
Communion – Factus est repente and the Salve Regina.
Some of these items were familiar to me from use
in the Latin mass choir in which I sing, but others were new.
The only item which is likely to be generally familiar is the
lovely Sequence, Veni Sancte Spiritus. The Salve Regina is not
sung to the familiar chant.
From the Vespers service we get the 4 Antiphons,
Dum complerentur, Spiritus domini, Repleti sunt, and Loquebantur,
the Hymn Veni Creator Spiritus, the final Antiphon and Magnificat
and the close of the Vespers service.
The advantage of the live recording is that you
get a real feel for the atmosphere of the mass; the familiarity
of the monks with the chant comes across. They really do sound
as if they have been singing the music for years. But they are
not professional musicians, so some of the cantors sound a little
thin voiced and there are problems of ensemble. Though these
problems are only such if you expect such music to be sung perfectly,
as if by the Tallis Scholars. Here it is intended to be an expression
of the worship of the community and ensemble must be understood
in this other sense.
The CD booklet contains only a track listing and
a short introduction to the chant. I could discover no recording
date. The disc is available on-line from the abbey’s web-site
(see above). Another thing to beware of is that the disc has only
two tracks, 1 for the plainchant from the mass and another for
the plainchant from vespers. This is most definitely a disadvantage
to those listeners who want to explore the various sections of
the mass and vespers in more detail.
The whole disc has a suitably meditative atmosphere,
whilst preserving a very real feeling of being in a living community;
it is certainly not a plastic-packaged product. This warts and
all feeling will not appeal to everyone but I loved the disc.
If you want to experience chant as sung in a real Benedictine
community then do try this.