Antiphon Santa Maria, Psalm 109 [8.26]
Antiphon Haec est Regina, Psalm112 [7.00]
ntiphon Beata Dei Genitix, Psalm 121 [7.32]
Antiphon Virgo prudentissima, Psalm 126 [6.28]
Capitulum, Responsorium Beata progenies [2.34]
Hymnus Ave maris stella, Versiculum Navitas est hodie [2.25]
Antiphon Navitas tua, Magnificat [6.42]
Kyrie, Paternoster, Oratio [3.47]
Salve Regina [2.58]
Heinrich-Isaac-Ensemble der Staatlichen Hochschule für Musik Karlsruhe/Hans-Georg Renner
rec. 24-25 September 1996, Pfarrkirche, Endingen a K.

The Cistercian order was founded in 1058 as a reaction against the Benedictine order which was seen as being too concerned with worldly things. The Cistercians started at Citeaux near Dijon, where the intention was to spend time in solitude and meditation. The rule was strict and the monks and nuns followed a routine based on poverty and humility. The result was surprisingly popular and fifty years after the order's foundation it had fifty abbeys. The Cistercian view of things affected the arts as well: their churches were plainer, emphasising the severity of the building with a lack of ornament. This severity passed over into their music where the emphasis was on essential content rather than ornamentation and flights of fancy. 
The city library in Colmar contains a number of 13th century Cistercian manuscripts from the abbey of Pairis, in a remote valley in the Vosges mountains. It was founded in 1138 and prospered until the end of the 18th century. It was demolished during the French Revolution.

This disc presents the music for the first Vespers of the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin based on one of the Colmar manuscripts (Colmar MS 318). The vespers were celebrated on the evening of 7th September (the eve of the feast). The manuscript records only the particular; those parts which would be unfamiliar, the everyday sections of the service, were not recorded as they could be sung from memory or from a standard hymnary. This was a technique necessary to save the precious resource of parchment used for writing the manuscripts.

So the Colmar MS preserves the antiphons for the Psalms, the responsory for the reading and its corresponding versicle and the antiphon for the Magnificat. The Psalms themselves and the Magnificat are not included in the manuscript but are included in the recording, taken from other sources. The Colmar manuscript preserves older versions of the antiphon texts, which are different from those used in the present day reformed Cistercian liturgy. The Hymn, Ave Maris stella, is also taken from the Colmar MS and its metre utilises the numerologically significant number of 3 x 3 (3 for the Trinity, 9 for the levels of angels in the divine hierarchy). The article in the CD booklet by Hans-Georg Renner gives full detail of the background to the music and complete texts and translations are included.

On this disc the service is sung not by monks but by the Heinrich-Isaac Ensemble from the Staatlichen Hochschule für Musik, directed by Hans-Georg Renner. The vocal ensemble consists of six men and they sound impressively convincing. They make a strong, direct sound which is in line with the Cistercian ethic. They do successfully sound as if they have been singing this material on a daily basis. The problem with many modern plainchant discs is that, if sung by a non-liturgical choir, they don't have the feeling of prayerful routine which monks or nuns bring to it, even if the choir brings better musical values. Here we have what seems to be a fine compromise.

The sections of the service taken from Colmar MS 318 have an austere beauty, which comes over well. But the remaining parts of the disc, the psalms themselves and the magnificat, have a regularity of utterance which I found started to wear. Perhaps this is where a disc by real monks might have succeeded better. But nonetheless this is striking and very attractive.

Robert Hugill