GREGORIAN CHANT (1st and 2nd centuries CE)
The Apostolic Age:
Video Caelos Apertos [3:08]
Verbum Caro Factum Est [5:42]
Kyrie Eleison [0:54]
Nonne Sic Oportuit...Christus Jesus [2:49]
Mysterium Fidei [0:40]
GREGORIAN CHANT (3rd to 6th centuries CE)
The Age of the Church Fathers:
Lumen Hilare [2:25]
Mirable Mysterium...Benedictus [5:45]
Veni, Redemptor Gentium [2:38]
A Solis Ortus Cardine [4:27]
Gloria (More Ambrosiano) [3:03]
O Admirabile Commercium...Psalm 109 [4:35]
Te Deum [4:17]
Tecum Principium [6:57]
Te Laudamus, Domine Omnipotens [2:32]
Schola Cantorum Karolus Magnus; Stan Hollaardt
rec. 23, 30 August; 8, 13, 27, 29 September 2005, Protestant Christian Church, Voorst, The Netherlands. DDD

This simple and well-sung collection of Gregorian chant from the first to the sixth centuries CE recorded in 2005 in The Netherlands by the dozen-strong Schola Cantorum Karolus Magnus has the merit of simplicity and directness.

The music is divided into two unequal parts five short chants (only Verbum Caro Factum Est is longer than five minutes) from the early centuries after Christ's death, when his status amongst believers changed from that of a historical figure resurrected at Easter to one of being accepted as the universal living embodiment of the Jewish God even in a Graeco-Roman world.

By the later period (3rd to 6th centuries CE) theologians, coenobites and worshippers felt confident enough of the divinity of Christ to examine once again his historical origins. Nine chants from this period are presented on this disc. Again, only a couple last more than five minutes. Indeed, the whole CD offers barely 50 minutes of music.

Yet, it's music with great impact, with a plainness and immediate appeal, both because of its beauty and its unadorned lines of unharmonised melody. Not that it's simplistic. Listen to the architecture, the turns, the withheld anticipation and then the gratifying but unhistrionic conclusion of Tecum Principium [tr.13], for example.

Several of the items here will already be well known: the Te Deum [tr.12], for example, is sung as it must have been composed or first 'recorded', in the 4th or 5th centuries. It's good to have these early basic models (on which so much later music has been based) presented in their (presumably) original forms.

Yet this CD is not a series of historical snippets. Thanks to the conviction and experience of the members of the Schola Cantorum Karolus Magnus and their director Stan Hollaardt (there are no details of either on this Brilliant CD), our experience is more that of being present during a routine act of devotion, than a perhaps overworked 'performance' to which spurious attempts have been made to add 'atmosphere' and the trappings of what, in the popular mind, plainchant entailed.

The qualities of the male voices are clear and penetrating. The articulation clean and purposive. The pronunciation of some of the vowels is distinctly north European; and the delivery styles of one or two individuals can be discerned. But that is surely how worshippers and anyone listening to such glorious chant fifteen hundred years ago would have heard it. There is enough warmth and individuality to make these recordings memorable, rather than perfunctory.

The acoustic is good, though not overwhelming: utterly appropriate, in fact. The CD's booklet contains very useful background and all the texts - in Latin and an at times rather gauche English. Advantages far outweigh drawbacks: this is certainly a CD to investigate.

Mark Sealey

An unpretentious, well sung and recorded selection of early chant conveying nicely the essence, as well as illustrating the provenance, of music at the very start of the Western tradition. See Full Review