Cantores Missae are a London-based vocal ensemble, directed by Charles Finch, who not only perform in concert but specialise in providing liturgical music for traditional sung masses in the Roman Catholic Church. They sing with one voice to a part. This disc, their first, mixes motets, plainchant and hymns, in a laudable attempt to make the music more familiar.
The plainchant is all taken from the “Plainsong for Schools”, an admirable idea for making the music more readily available. The motets are all small scale; ones you might come across in a traditional service - either Roman Catholic or Anglican. In fact a number of them are in the repertoire of the Latin Mass Choir at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, Chelsea, where I sing. The selection is quite wide, managing to take in Croce and Attwood besides the more well known composers. They noticeably avoid the composers of the 19th century English Roman Catholic school whose compositions have become staple in traditional services, but whose musical content is rather variable.
A final thread in the recording is a series of hymns. These are not, as I first imagined, traditional Latin hymns, but ordinary congregational hymnody culminating in Faith of our Fathers.
Four of the items - Elgar’s Ave Verum, the plainchant Ave Verum and the hymns Lead Kindly Light and Praise to the holiest in the height - were all sung at the masses during the Papal visit to Great Britain in 2010. And this seems to be the recording’s main impetus, though it does not include any of the music specially written for the occasion by James Macmillan.
Cantores Missae sing everything beautifully, with a great deal of care and attention to both words and music. Kirsty Hopkins and Ildiko Allen make attractive soloists in the Elgar, Attwood and Mozart. The hymns are given a fine intimacy, which is a pleasure to listen to, rather than being bawled out in an attempt to get people singing along. That is, if you want to listen to hymns.
And this is the problem. For a sequence of motets and chant aimed at the casual listener this disc includes rather too many hymns - which are not noticeably interesting to listen to for the non-religious listener. Also, the programme lacks meat: all of the motets are within the grasp of the good amateur church choir and none, even the Bruckner, really taxes the listener in any way. For a programme like this to work it would need a couple of more challenging pieces.
But then, I don’t think the CD is aimed at the average listener. It is aimed at those interested in the music which is performed, or might be performed, at their church services. And as such it is beautifully executed and should, I hope, win many people over.
Richard Runciman TERRY (1865 - 1938) Praise to the Holiest [4.05]
Sir Edward ELGAR (1857 - 1934) Ave Verum [2.45]
Hymn O Bread of Heaven [3.17]
Plainchant Ubi Caritas [3.13]
Giovanni CROCE (1557 - 1609) O sacrum convivium [2.12]
Trad Portuguese Ecca Panis angelorum [1.22]
Sir Edward ELGAR (1857 - 1934) O Salutaris [2.29]
Plainchant Ave Verum [1.39]
Anton BRUCKNER (1824 - 1896) Tantum ergo [2.05]
Hymn O Jesus Christ remember [2.23]
Plainchant Veni sancte spiritus [3.15]
Thomas ATTWOOD (1783 - 1859) Veni Creator [4.18]
Plainchant Salutis humanae [2.56]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 - 1791) Laudate Dominum [2.00]
Plainchant Jesu dulcis memoria [2.50]
Hymn Jesu, grant me this I pray [3.03]
Hymn Lead Kindly Light [1.19]
Plainchant Alma redemptoris mater [1.15]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797 - 1828) Salve Regina [2.15]
Plainchant Salve Mater [4.11]
Hymn Faith of our Fathers [2.53]