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Chant: Music for Paradise
The Cistercian Monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz
rec. Sanctuary of the Relic of the Holy Cross, Stift Heiligenkreuz, Austria, 21st March-3rd April, 2008. DDD.
Booklet with notes, texts and translations.

Experience Classicsonline

Antiphon In Paradisum et Psalmus 121 (122) [4:25]
Responsorium Subvenite [2:26]
Responsorium Libera Me [4:26]
Stift Heiligenkreuz Bells [1:36]
Missa pro defunctis:
Introitus Requiem aeternam [2:00]
Kyrie eleison [1:38]
Graduale Requiem aeternam [2:40]
Tractus Absolve Domine [2:10]
Offertorium Domine Iesu Christe [3:40]
Sanctus [0:46]
Post Elevationem: Pie Iesu Domine [0:50]
Agnus Dei [0:44]
Communio Lux aeterna [1:01]
Ad Completorium:
Deus in adiutorium [0:49]
Hymnus Te lucis ante terminum [1:24]
Psalmus 4 [2:33]
Psalmus 90 (91) [3:46]
Psalmus 133 [1:12]
Lectio brevis [0:27]
Responsorium breve [0:40]
Canticum Simeonis Nunc dimittis [2:17]
Kyrie [0:12]
Oratio conclusiva [0:47]
Antiphona ad Beatam Mariam Virginem Salve Regina [2:47]
Benedictio [0:19]
Stift Heiligenkreuz Bells [0:50]
Hymnus Veni Creator Spiritus [2:30]
Introitus Dominica Pentecostes Spiritus Domini [2:35]
Communio Dominica Pentecostes Factus est repente [1:12]

This new recording has a website all of its own,, where you can hear some of the music and learn that the CD has achieved a place in the top ten in the UK pop charts as well as first place in the classical chart. If you don’t want the whole programme, Veni Creator is also available as a single. So it needs no recommendation from me, nor do I need to quote from the booklet, since all the information is available from this website (including one typo, Oratio conclusive instead of conclusiva).

In fact, I can but concur with the market in this case. From time to time I urge you to forget all the ‘relaxation’ CDs on the market and unwind with a particular recording. I can think of no better vehicle for this than the present recording. There must be no less appropriate name than the surname of the abbot of Stift Heiligenkreuz, Donnersmarck – there is nothing the least thunderous about this recording.

Chant is suddenly ‘in’ again, with EMI releasing (re-releasing?) more of the Monks of Silos who achieved such success a few years ago with Canto Gregoriano, and Sony BMG signing up three priests (imaginatively named The Priests) to record spiritual music. In view of the publicity which this album has received, I was surprised to discover that the booklet and insert are free from hype.

The disc itself is something of a wolf in sheep’s clothing, since it is housed in an SACD round-shouldered case (which, incidentally, was slightly damaged in transit, despite the greater robustness of these cases.) The label side of the CD itself contains no information, merely a depiction of a flower motif.

The recording falls into four sections: excerpts from the Office of the Dead, the Requiem Mass, Compline and music for Pentecost (Whit Sunday). This arrangement provides for the linking of several pieces with a common origin while at the same time offering variety. The funereal music on tracks 1-13 is in no way morbid, especially as only Pie Jesu from Dies iræ is included, as per Fauré’s well-known and beautiful setting; rather, its timeless qualities are very soothing. Play tracks 14 to 25 as late-night listening and you will have heard the whole office of Compline.

I recently reviewed Naxos’s 3-CD set Time of the Templars, the second CD of which offers a selection of chant performed by Nova Schola Gregoriano under Alberto Turco (Naxos 8.503192). This recording also remains available separately on Naxos 8.550771 under the title Adorate Dominum. As a single CD, that Naxos recording costs less than half the price of the new UCJ and the three-CD set little more than the price of the one new CD. The Naxos performances are good but the programme on offer is very diverse – no two items from the same Sunday or festival – and, while it would be unfair to compare it to a set of bleeding chunks, the new recording is much more unified – well worth the price differential.

The Monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz chant the offices and Mass every day. The abbot has made a special point of insisting that their performances are given with no other purpose than to the glory of God. They thus have a daily familiarity with this music which makes their singing authoritative and gives them an edge over a group of professional singers. Much the same is true, for example, of Nimbus’s series of recordings of English church music with Christ Church Cathedral Choir: though they sometimes yield technically to a group such as The Sixteen, their regular singing in the cathedral adds something special to their performance.

In fact, I didn’t notice any technical imperfections in the singing of the Heiligenkreuz monks, though they presumably sang each group of chants without a break and without retakes. Their singing has justly received the imprimatur of Pope Benedict XVI himself. If you have any doubts at all, listen to their singing of the opening In Paradisum and part of Veni Creator Spiritus on the website. The latter breaks off suddenly in mid flow, but I guarantee that it will make you want to buy the CD or, if you can’t wait, download it from the classicsandjazz website, where it’s available for £7.90.

The recording captures the ambiance of the building – a large builing, as depicted in the booklet – extremely well without being too reverberant. The absence of ambiance in the silences between tracks is rather disconcerting.

The booklet is one of those annoying efforts where light-coloured small print is superimposed on a dark background, but it does include all the texts and translations, which the Naxos reissue does not. The notes, written for the general reader, are a little sparse; you’ll find more information on the website. The specialist listener might have preferred more scholarly information; presumably the monks feel discussions of edition and performing style irrelevant to the prime purpose of their worship. That devotion and scholarship can be combined is demonstrated by the recordings of (sadly, the late) Mary Berry.

Otherwise I am sure that this CD will sell like the proverbial hot cakes and will deserve to do so. In making it Recording of the Month, I am willingly going with the swim.

Brian Wilson



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