This is the fourth recording made by the twelve or so female singers which make up ‘The Gregorian Chant Choir Schola Sanctae Sunnivae’ as the booklet proudly proclaims. They are under the enthusiastic direction of Anne Kleivset. For this disc they have tackled chant from the rare source found at Nidaros Cathedral from Trondheim in the choir’s home country of Norway. It is rare because most liturgical choir books were destroyed in the 16th
centuries. In fairness most of the chant melodies are available from other codices but it’s good to have these indigenous ones gathered together in one place.
They couch the chant into a Marian feast; in fact for the Feast of the Nativity a solemn occasion celebrated on September 8th
. The texts, which are given Latin, English and Norwegian in the lovely booklet, include invocations as follows “Mary was a maiden of illustrious birth/The daughter of a kingly race/We earnestly entrust her to help our minds and souls in prayer”. That’s in the antiphon Regalis ex progenie
What makes this disc unique is the instrumental contribution in the shape of music by Henning Sommerro from the 1970s folk group Varsog. Later he played in The Tramps. He attended Trondheim Music Conservatory. He is an organist by training. I mention this because the plainchant tracks are interspersed with some interludes originally written for organ in a five movement suite called ‘Maria’ based on plainchant antiphons for Laudes. This was written for the 800th
Anniversary of the Church of Our Lady in Trondheim in 2007. Here it has been transcribed for melodic percussion instruments and is played magically by Espen Aalberg, who has experience in the jazz and classical traditions and Lars Sitter who is principal percussionist with the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra.
In addition to these interludes Sommerro provides music to be performed with the singers as in tracks 1 and 18 for instance. This generally acts as a sophisticated sort of harmonic support to the chant. The music is divided into three sections corresponding to three of the offices for the feast. Thus the plan of the CD runs as follows:-
Antiphon and Magnificat: Gloriosae Virginis Mariae [4.28]
Nativitatis est hodie [1.49]
Antiphon: Ista est speciosa [2.07]
Antiphon: Haec est regina virginum [2.17]
Interlude II [2.11]
Responsorium: Corde et animo [2.42]
Responsorium: Solem iustitiae [2.22]
Responsorium: Stirps Jesse [4.36]
Interlude III [1.50]
Nativitas gloriosae [1.30]
Antiphon: Nativitas est hodie [1.11]
Antiphon: Regali ex progenie [1.44]
Interlude IV [3.03]
Antiphon: Corde et animo [1.51]
Antiphon: Cum jucunditate [1.16]
Antiphon ad Benedictum: Nativitatem hodiernam [5.41]
Interlude V [2.14]
The booklet which is attached - as is not uncommon nowadays - to its card casing. The notes are by Eugeen Liven d’Abelardo who goes into considerable detail about the chant and its sources but is almost completely silent about the interludes. In a sense that sums up the disc which really falls between two stools. The chant would not make up a decent length disc. The instrumental pieces seem to lack substance although they are attractive. The overall CD length is far from generous anyway. All that said, the chant is most evocatively performed and the interludes do add a most beautiful contrast even if the percussionists seem a little set back in the overall space. Nevertheless the whole listening experience is spiritual, thoughtful and often moving. Texts, biographies and excellent photos are included.
My final verdict? It’s all quite unusual and different and a good way of presenting chant but I’m not sure who is really going to buy a disc like this.