Gregorian and Ambrosian Chant
CD 1: Gregorian and Ambrosian Chant for Epiphany [74:50]
Schola Cantorum Coloniensis with members of the Schola Choralis Solingen (Cantor Harald Schloßmacher
CD 2: The Rosary: Gregorian Chant and Organ improvisations [73:06]
Schola Cantorum Coloniensis/Gabriel Maria Steinschulte
Albert Richenhagen (organ); Theo Brandmüller (organ) on the Breil organ in the church of St Mariä Himmelfahrt, Cologne, Germany
rec. live Basilica of Groß St Martin, Cologne, 6 January 1983 (CD1) and live in Church of St Mariä Himmelfahrt, 16 April 1993 (organ) and Church of St Laurentius, Marmagen (Eifel), 10 September 1994 (CD2)
full track details at the end of the review
VIRGIN CLASSICS 6285142 [74:50 + 73:06]
Fragments of this 2-CD set reappeared on one of EMI/Virgin’s omnium gatherum collections in 2003: 1000 Years of Sacred Music (Virgin Classics 5621262). Peter Wells asked the pertinent question: what was the use of such a collection, but he ended by answering himself that the set as a whole would be a valuable resource - see review. That larger collection seems to have bitten the dust but what we have here is much more valuable - at least for those with a modicum of scholarly interest in chant. I’m less sure that this is the place for the uninitiated to begin.
The chief interest for me lies in the side-by-side presentation of ‘Gregorian’ and ‘Ambrosian’ chant on the first CD. I use the names in inverted commas because it’s far from certain that either of these saints had much to do with the chants which go by their names, at Rome and Milan respectively. Ambrose did compose a number of hymns and, possibly, the melodies associated with them, included the wonderful Easter Eve Exsultet jam angelica turba cælorum; the tradition that St Ambrose and St Augustine composed the Te Deum spontaneously as the former baptised the latter, however, is a beautiful invention but, unfortunately, it is just that.
With the hegemony of the Roman Rite following the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century, the so-called Tridentine Rite which replaced all but a handful of local variants and held sway until very recently, variants such as the Ambrosian at Milan and the Mozarabic at Toledo were largely side-lined. The Mozarabic is now celebrated in just one side chapel in Toledo Cathedral - celebrated nonchalantly and at a pace to put Olympic sprinters to shame when I attended in the 1960s, as if to indicate its supposed inferiority to the High Mass which followed, with some excruciating singing of Victoria.
The Ambrosian has some claim to be an older liturgy than the Roman, as witness the Creed (CD1, track 14) where it retained the original plural form, Credimus in unum Deum, we believe in one God, reduced to the singular Credo, I believe, in the Roman Mass until the plural was restored in both Roman and Anglican usage in the late 20th century.
This first CD was recorded live on the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6, in the Church of Great St Martin Cologne. The Epiphany has special significance in Cologne because it celebrates the Visit of the Magi, traditionally supposed to be three Kings, whose tombs are believed to be located in Cologne Cathedral. It begins with music for the First Vespers of Epiphany, celebrated on the preceding day, followed by music for Matins, Mass and Second Vespers of the Feast.
Certain unique features of the Ambrosian Rite are included - the Transitoria for First and Second Vespers (trs. 3 and 24), the Ingressa (tr.9) which takes the place at Milan of the Roman Introit (also included as tr.8) and the Psallenda (trs. 19-20). It must be admitted, however, that the chief differences between the two uses are textual - the Ingressa usually consists of a single scriptural sentence, not a psalm, as is the case with the Roman Introit. The Ingressa for Epiphany, for example, presented on track 9, Civitas non eget sole neque luna ut luceant in ea nam claritas Dei inluminavit eam et lucerna eius est agnus, is taken from Revelation 21:23: The city does not need the sun ... for God’s light illuminates it.
On the whole, the uninitiated are unlikely to hear much difference in the music except in the Gloria in excelsis, the Gregorian tone for which is well known. The Ambrosian setting of this in festive tone (tr.10) is available online for those able to read square-note notation - here - in a version from a 12th-century manuscript. It’s a much simpler setting than that in the Roman liturgy, with generally one note per syllable except that each section is rounded off with melismatic flourishes. The other peculiarity is that it is followed in Ambrosian usage by a threefold Kyrie eleison.
The second CD consists of music associated with the Rosary - not texts which are recited during the Rosary but hymns and chants from the Missal and Breviary, beginning with the Marian Antiphon Alma Redemptoris Mater in simplex and sollemnis modes and encompassing the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries, interspersed with organ improvisations recorded in a different venue. As a programme this works well and the organ interpolations serve to break up what would otherwise have been over an hour of plainchant.
The second disc ends with Ave Nobilis from the Benediktbeuern collection which gave its name to the Carmina Burana - don’t confuse it with the raunchier texts from that collection which Carl Orff set so memorably - two sequences for feasts of the Virgin Mary and the Ave Maria. The texts and Solesmes edition of the music of the Marian pieces can be found online - here.
The Schola Cantorum Coloniensis is a wholly adult male group, so that what we hear approximates to the sound that would be heard in monastic or cathedral use, though few monastic choirs could match the quality of the singing here. As such, it can sound a little unvaried, so beginners might prefer to take their plainsong in smaller doses on a recording which intersperses chant and polyphony, such as (to take just one example from the top of my head) From the Vaults of Westminster Cathedral, a Procession of Chant and Polyphony (Hyperion CDA67707 - see review and my Christmas Downloads 2009). To compare the singing of Alleluia, vidimus stellam on that recording (tr.19) with that on the Virgin reissue (CD 1, tr.12) is like choosing between chalk and cheese: both are faithful renditions of the chant and at almost exactly the same tempo, but the high voices on the Westminster recording and the (unobtrusive) organ accompaniment take the music into a different domain. It’s a place where most possessors of innocent ears will feel more at home - but that doesn’t make one better than the other.
I’m not sure why two organists were involved, but their contributions are valuable, not just for breaking up the chant on CD 2.
The recordings are live, which involves an element of fairly subdued coughing and snuffling at times - never enough to disturb this listener. The voices are placed at a distance, which is as appropriate as Hyperion’s closer soundstage is for the Westminster recording. The perspective for the organ works on CD 2 is similar to that of the vocal items, so there is no dichotomy between the parts of the programme.
As usual with Virgin’s inexpensive 2-CD sets - and those of their EMI partners - the notes are very brief. For that reason and even more because of the complete absence of texts and translations, even online, it isn’t possible to recommend the set wholeheartedly, especially to the novice, despite the extremely attractive price, typically around £8.50 in the UK. There is almost nothing in the notes to tell the listener what the Ambrosian Rite is and, unfortunately, the most accessible book on music, the Oxford Companion, doesn’t help much either. The best online source is the very old Catholic Encyclopedia - here.
Those wishing to investigate the Ambrosian Rite and its music more fully should be aware of a Naxos CD entirely devoted to it, directed by Alberto Turco (8.553502). Only the Gloria in excelsis and Creed overlap with the Virgin reissue. The Gloria in excelsis and Te laudamus Transitory also feature on a Hungaroton CD of Ambrosian Chant for Advent and Christmas (The Schola Hungarica on HCD12889). Both of these are available for subscribers to the Naxos Music Library to try.
The reissue, then, is well worth its very modest cost. I wouldn’t recommend sitting down to listen to both CDs one after the other, though the organ improvisations on CD2 do offer a degree of variety. Bear in mind my feeling that the uninitiated might prefer to start with a recording which mixes chant and polyphony and that all would benefit from access to texts, otherwise buy with confidence.
A welcome and inexpensive means of escape to a more spiritual world.
CD 1: Gregorian and Ambrosian Chant for Epiphany
Prologue: Lectio Isaiæ prophetæ [3:20]
Magnificat Antiphon (Gregorian): Tribus miraculis [1:27]
Transitorium (Ambrosian): Hodie cælesti sponso [2:23]
Hymnus (Gregorian): Hostis Herodes impie [2:57]
Antiphon (Gregorian): Hodie nobis beata illuxit [2:55]
Responsorium prolixum (Gregorian): Illuminare Jerusalem [4:53]
Antiphon & Psalm 71: Stella ista [4;16]
Introitus (Gregorian): Ecce advenit [5:44]
Ingressa (Ambrosian): Civitas non eget sole [2:04]
Gloria in Tonus festivus (Ambrosian): Gloria in excelsis Deo [2:58]
Graduale (Gregorian): Omnes de Saba venient [3:37]
Alleluia (Gregorian): Vidimus stellam eius [2:11]
Hallelujah (Ambrosian): Puer natus est nobis [5:09]
Symbolum (Creed, Ambrosian): Credimus in unum Deum [3:26]
Offertorium (Gregorian): Reges Tharsis [9:40]
Communio & Psalm 71: Vidimus stellam eius [3:05]
Responsorium breve (Gregorian): Omnes de Saba venient [1:51]
Magnificat-Antiphon (Gregorian): Videntes stellam Magi [0:30]
Psallenda (Ambrosian): Videntes stellam Magi [0:43]
Psallenda (Ambrosian): Apparuit in mundo [1:22]
Antiphon (Gregorian): O qualem gloriam [0:55]
Magnificat-Antiphon (Gregorian): Admoniti Magi [0:29]
Responsorium (Gregorian): Tria sunt munera [5:01]
Transitorium (Ambrosian): Te laudamus Domine [2:03]
CD 2: The Rosary: Gregorian Chant and Organ improvisations
Antiphona simplex: Alma Redemptoris Mater [1:01]
Antiphona sollemnis: Alma Redemptoris Mater [1:36]
The Joyful Mysteries
Offertorium: Ave Maria, gratia plena [1:54]
Organ improvisation [2:00]
Communio: Beatam me dicent [0:46]
Organ improvisation [2:13]
Communio: In splendoribus sanctorum [0:32]
Organ improvisation [2;12]
Antiphona: Lumen ad revelationem gentium [0:38]
Organ improvisation [1:46]
Communio: Fili, quid fecisti nobis sic? [1:13]
Organ improvisation [2:45]
Antiphona simplex: Ave Regina cælorum [0:45]
Antiphona sollemnis: Ave Regina cælorum [1:24]
The Sorrowful Mysteries
Communio: Pater, si non potest hic calix transire [0:27]
Organ improvisation [2:20]
Improperium: Popule meus, quid fecisti tibi? [0:56]
Organ improvisation [1:47]
Improperium: Ego propter te [0:42]
Organ improvisation [2:03]
Hymnus: Crux fidelis [0:45]
Organ improvisation [2:49]
Graduale: Christus factus est pro nobis [1:02]
Organ improvisation [3:10]
Antiphona simplex Regina, cæli lætare: [0:34]
Antiphona sollemnis: Regina, cæli lætare [1:36]
The Glorious Mysteries
Introitus: Resurrexi [1:19]
Organ improvisation [1:51]
Offertorium: Ascendit Deus [1:24]
Organ improvisation [1:30]
Communio: Factus est repente [1:05]
Organ improvisation [1:33]
Offertorium: Assumpta est Maria [1:41]
Organ improvisation [1:31]
Introitus: Signum magnum apparuit [1:06]
Organ improvisation [4:40]
Antiphona simplex: Salve Regina [1:31]
Antiphona sollemnis: Salve Regina [2:18]
Hymnus: Solis, O Virgo [1:58]
Carmen Buranum: Ave Nobilis [3:19]
Sequentia: Sicut pratum picturatur [3:09]
Sequentia: Hodiernæ lux diei [3:01]
Antiphona: Ave Maria [0:59]