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Chants de la Cathédrale de Benevento
Ensemble Organum/Marcel Pérès
rec. 1993

The first question is: Where is Benevento? It is about fifty miles to the North or so of Naples and is a mountain monastery church and a town of Roman foundation. It was, in the seventh to ninth centuries a significant centre for Ambrosian chant.

In the same way that in the later nineteenth century there was a divide between the supporters of Brahms and those of Wagner, in the eighth century supporters of the more ancient Ambrosian chant and those of the newer Gregorian chant were at loggerheads. Eventually the Roman church, needing conformity, opted for the latter under Pope Stephen IX in 1058. In fairness the centre for Ambrosian chant had always been in Milan and Benevento chant had been suppressed before that time; indeed most of its manuscripts were, in all probability, deliberately destroyed.

Italy took some considerable time to adapt to the more European Romanesque architecture always favouring the Byzantine. Proof is to be found all over the country but just think of the mosaic city of Ravenna or Palermo cathedral or St. Mark’s Venice. Southern Italy was Lombardic and that architectural style can be found especially around Naples. The influence of Constantinople on all of the arts before the tenth century and therefore on the church cannot be over-emphasised.

For example the opening six tracks, devoted to the office of ‘The Adoration of the Cross’, uses the only surviving Benevento Greek and Latin chants in existence; in the listings below I have only given the more familiar Latin titles. Benevento had Greek singers in its choir. It was cross-cultural as Thomas Forrest Kelly discusses in his fascinating if brief notes. These can be found in a little booklet tucked into the cardboard cover. This is also quite apt because it had been Constantine’s mother who discovered the ‘true cross’ buried for over three hundred years and brought it back from the Holy Land. Ensemble Organum have the music on these six tracks performed rather like Byzantine chant and use Lycourgos Angelopoulos as a cantor as well as Marcel Pérès, the group’s director. This section consists of Prayers and three psalms, 22, 148 and 149 with the choir responding to the cantors leading phrases.

The second section with just two tracks is devoted to the ‘Easter Vigil’ with an acclamation and Gloria. Finally all in Latin is the chanted ‘Mass for Easter Day’, which is more Byzantine and is presented, with even more subtle quarter-tone usage, ornamentation and drones. The Kyrie ‘Ad monumentum Domini’ is a long troped version, but as no texts are given I cannot be more specific. The climax of this section is the Communion hymn ‘Qui manducaverit’ the longest track on the CD.

Nothing is known of the melodies that were originally applied to the hymns of St. Ambrose. They may have been composed by him or adapted from even earlier music. As he lived in the fourth century we are listening here to music dating back to the very infancy of the Christian world. The hymns were, anyway, intended for congregational use so the melodies are often quite simple and proved popular, spreading quickly. They were later much embroidered as can be heard in the ‘Qui manducaverit’. This rather parallels what happened to the simple churches of the time which became become encrusted in more and more mosaics and carvings as the centuries progressed.

Ensemble Organum have recorded even earlier repertoire (Old Roman Chant) and also chant from ninth and tenth century France, Spain and even Cyprus over their twenty years recording history. Each disc demonstrates Pérès’ conviction that the more eastern style of chanting was strongly influential throughout most of Europe, even well into the middle ages.

This disc is a re-release of a 1993 recording and as well as the above singers there are five others plus a basso profundo for the drones taken by Antoine Sicot.

Gary Higginson

The Adoration of the Cross
1. O quando in cruce [6.50]
2. Adoremus crucem tuam/Psalm 22 [4.47]
3. Crucem tuam /Psalm 148 [7.23]
4. Laudemus Christi/Psalm 149 [6.06]
5. Omnes gentes [2.51]
6. Amicus meus osculi me tradit [6.41]
Easter Vigil
7. Acclamation: Gloria in excelsis [2.21]
8. Se quis catechumenus est [1.06]
Mass for Easter Day
9. Introit: Maria vidit angelum [9.38]
10. Ad monumentum Domini [5.15]
11. Alleluia: Pascha nostrum [3.45]
12. Alleluia: Resurrexit tamquam [4.17]
13. Offertoire: Angelus Domini descendit de celo [1.56]
14. Communion: Qui manucaverit [10.27]