Gregorian Chant, Cantus Mariales
O Maria Mater pia [4:03]
O Virgo pulcherrima [1:16]
Concordi lætitia [2:12]
Tota pulchra es [4:55]
Salve mira creatura [4:28]
Virgo Clemens [1:16]
O Maria vitæ via [5:20]
Ave Virgo speciei [4:18]
Salve Mater misericordiæ [7:04]
Isti sunt agni novelli [4:56]
Clemens et benigna [3:31]
O beata Mater [4:57]
Sancta Maria [4:58]
O mira caritas [5:03]
Choeur des Moines de l'Abbaye Bénédictine de Saint-Benoît-du-Lac, Le Saint-Cyr
rec. 8 February 1985, Abbaye de Saint Benoît-du-Lac, Canada. DDD
ANALEKTA AN 2 9769 [65:10]
This is re-issue of a collection of Marian sacred chants originally released in 1985 when our view of authenticity in mediaeval singing was somewhat different from that of today. A quiet, delicate organ melody accompanies most of the dozen and a half short - none is much longer than five minutes - works to be found on this CD, for example. The tone of the voices of the monks of Saint-Benoît Abbey emphasises sweetness and warmth, with mild vibrato, over penetration and the austerity we sometimes associate with mediaeval chant.
On the plus side, though, this CD totally avoids the sensationalism and commercialisation of some later 'chant' 'products'. The singers here pride themselves on faithful adherence to the principles established by the Solesmes' tradition a hundred years ago.
The abbey of Saint-Benoît is a Benedictine foundation - in Quebec. It is almost a hundred years old. The monks aim to spread their 'word' more by teaching and example than heavy selling - of lifestyle or music. In that sense this collection should be taken more in the spirit of a recording by a practising choir school than a dedicated performing group. And so it is with the singing … serene, unpretentious, low-key and self-confident. As you listen to hymn after hymn, you feel you might almost be overhearing the monks at prayer.
At the same time, they have a facility with projection of these simple yet powerful chants in such a way that you are drawn into their view of the relationship between Mary and the worshipper rather than being asked to examine the texts and traditions of the originators of the chants. The rather flowery prose of the short booklet which comes with the CD (it does not include texts) explains that the purpose of uncovering and recording otherwise neglected or forgotten Marian music is largely a liturgical one. Indeed, departure from the original manuscripts in the interests of doctrine is claimed as a virtue. In compensation, there are several chants included on this CD that are unavailable anywhere else. The acoustic is serviceable and avoids over-resonance; indeed, it may seem just a touch 'boxy' to some.
Nothing stunning here, then; nothing that would prompt you to choose this as a necessary or first CD of its kind. Yet, if listened to with attention and without prejudice, the dedication of the singers to the undeniably beautiful and transparent chant - albeit with superfluous 'decoration' throughout - should communicate the genuineness and dedication of these particular modern practitioners. This may well reveal an analogue to ways in which its earliest singers experienced it.
Not a first choice for exemplary, definitive plainchant but a useful collection of mediaeval Marian chant sung with conviction and style.