Lent at Ephesus [TrackList follows] – Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles – Decca B0019859, 78:43 [Distr. by Universal] ****:
This is the fourth recording from the Priory of Our Lady of Ephesus in Missouri, the other three being Angels and Saints at Ephesus, Advent at Ephesus, and Christmas at Ephesus. This is the first time we have reviewed them, though they did make our Audio News section on January 7th, which says “Benedictines of Mary Again Top Traditional Classical Album of 2013 – Universal has announced that the Sisters have made the top listings for the second year in a row. Founded in 1995, the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, are a young monastic order of Sisters in Missouri. They work on their farm and live mostly off the land, singing together eight times a year as part of their monastic schedule. Their Prioress vacated her seat in the horn section of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra in Ohio to enter religious life. Their gimmick-free and genuine music-making includes poignant chants, intricate harmonies and rousing hymns of glory and redemption. And their albums are on Decca.”
I can’t complain about any of this; though it must be said that the major labels have been trying to capitalize on “Chant” albums for years (remember the horrible Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos? That album was badly recorded engineering-wise and sold like crazy even though there were already 50 or so better albums on the market at the time.) In this case it’s tough to review the good ladies at Ephesus because it’s hard to determine exactly how to compare them.
Let me give an example—it you are searching for female monastic choirs rendering traditional monastic chants such that they could be given as examples for a music history course in a conservatory, this is not what you want. Neither does it suffice for a rigorous example of formal and correct historical chant renditions. So that disqualifies it if this is what you want. And these comparisons must be made since they have hooked up with a major label for distribution, perhaps the largest one in the world, which thrusts them—like it or not, and they profess that this is not what they were seeking—onto the world scene in a big way, as the news quote above demonstrates.
So what can I say? Well, if you want something heartfelt, perfectly adapted for local monastic community needs, and performed with a palpable and distinct love of singing and praying, I can think of few better places to begin. Half of these sometimes traditional hymns are arranged by the nuns themselves, and the purity—yes, they do care about the felicities of clean and proper performance—of the presentation strikes on at the heart of the way Lent should be approached. In other words, if you seek a recording that will plop you straight down into the depths of the season, I guarantee that this will sooth your soul, and definitely your frazzled nerves as well. I also highly suggest that you search for them on YouTube to view the mini-documentary about their community and their recording efforts—well worth the time.
TrackList:1. Jesus, My Love 2. Christus Factus Est 3. God of Mercy and Compassion 4. Hosanna To the Son Of David 5. Jesu Dulcis Amor Meus 6. Jesu Salvator Mundi 7. Improperia 8. On the Way of the Cross 9. Pueri Hebræorum 10. O Sacred Head Surrounded 11. Adoramus Te Christe (Ravanello) 12. Stabat Mater 13. Divine Physician 14. Vexilla Regis 15. Mother of Sorrows 16. Vere Languores Nostros 17. Tenebræ factæ sunt 18. O Come and Mourn 19. Adoramus Te Christe (Dubois) 20. Crux Fidelis 21. All Glory, Laud and Honor 22. Ave Regina Cælorum 23. My Mercy