“Benedicta: Marian Chant from Norcia” – The Monks of Norcia – Decca

“Benedicta: Marian Chant from Norcia” – The Monks of Norcia – Decca 002315302, 64:52 [Distr. by Universal] ****:

This community of Benedictine monks in Norcia Italy, is, oddly enough, half American. The other half is a rather diverse mix from men all over the world, making for an international if not ecumenical blend. But it was Fr. Cassian Folsom and his confreres who resettled monasticism in this place in 1998, where it had not been present, unbelievably, for nearly 200 years. Cassian, who has the added benefit of having studied voice at Indiana University, was intent on establishing music as the integral part and parcel of the Benedictine tradition it has always been. St. Benedict himself, born around 480, created his rule which, with its spirit of balance, moderation and reasonableness, dominated most of the monastic institutions of Europe at the time, and had an influence in the east as well since he was so influenced by St. John Cassian, a westerner extremely eastern in spirit.

Every once in a while these chant albums appear on major labels, always with a lot of splash, and attempting to tap into the “spiritual” aspect of many who like to chill out with some non-demanding music and a glass of wine. Of course if they listened more carefully they would see that this music is as demanding as any ever written, and its spirituality is designed to lead one to the heart of the Christian message. Sometimes, like when the awful series of albums from the early 1990s featuring the monks of the Monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos appeared, one frets that, even though those recordings were “honest” in presentation they were also quite bad, and the engineering was terrible. So why go back, yet again, in 2015?

Well for one these guys are rehearsed, musical, and very good. This too is an “honest” presentation in that they are simply giving us what they encounter in their daily offices. It is concert-like in that there is no live recording going on during a service, but the authenticity of their voices come across very well and you get the impression that what they are showing off is what they do, no more, no less. I like this sort of emblematic presentation far more than the over-rehearsed albums that give the music as it has never been given before, much too sterile and devoid of spirit. This one is nicely recorded, a potpourri of Marian chants that include one original (try guessing which one it is before you cheat and look—bet you can’t!), done with love and—yes—talent. Recommended!

Tracklist:

1. Bells from the Basilica

2. Sequence Ave Maria…virgo serena

3. Capitulum Dominus possedit me

4. Responsory Nihil Inquinatum

5. Antiphon Ait Dominus

6. Responsory Beatissimae

7. Antiphon Regali ex progenie

8. Responsory Solem justitiae

9. Capitulum Ecce virgo concipiet

10. Responsory Gaude Maria

11. Antiphon Gabriel Angelus

12. Responsory Sancta et immaculata

13. Antiphon Rubum quem viderat

14. Antiphon Alma Redemptoris Mater

15. Antiphon Tuam ipsius animam

16. Capitulum Cui comparabo te?

17. Responsory Vadis Propitiator

18. Antiphon Ave Regina Caelorum

19. Antiphon Laetare Virgo Mater

20. Antiphon Regina Caeli

21. Hymn Concordi laetitia

22. Capitulum Benedixit te

23. Responsory Vidi speciosam

24. Antiphon Virgo Prudentissima

25. Responsory Virgo parens Christi

26. Antiphon Sub tuum praesidium

27. Capitulum Ab initio

28. Responsory Ave Maria

29. Hymn O gloriosa Domina

30. Hymn Ave maris stella

31. Antiphon Nos qui Christi iugum

32. Antiphon Salve Regina

33. Benedicta

—Steven Ritter

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