Thursday, September 14, 2006

Polyphony recordings that take your breath away

People often ask about what recordings of polyphonic music they should have in their collection. It is an intimidating question because even within this niche market, there vast numbers of amazing recordings available. And for lovers of polyphony, each one seems even better than the last.

Anything by the Tallis Scholars is to be recommended of course (my ears prefer women on soprano to boys), but there are so many ensembles that are overlooked. I've recently been listening to the King's Consort collection sacred music of Monteverdi, for example. Oustanding.

But that's not the reason for this post. My purpose is to draw your attention to some recordings that certainly rank among the best i've ever heard. They are full Mass settings with the Propers and additional motets. They are expertly done, the chants in particular, but also the polyphony is balanced and warm, with the right combination of the human and divine. It's beyond me why these recordings don't get more attention. For the Catholic interested in liturgy, they are just perfect.

I'm speaking of the series put out by the St. Gregory Society in New Haven, a group our little schola jokingly refers to as "our sister schola at Yale." It's joke because this group is really beyond belief. Unlike many secular recordings, these exude a Catholic piety and spirituality. They are capable of inspiring a parish choir in a way that more commercialized recordings cannot. And it is a special treat to hear these large settings of the Mass ordinary put into their real liturgical context. You hear the bells, and you can almost smell the incense.

It appears that they have seven CDs out. I own six. In fact, at some point, I bought 60 copies as a donation to the parish bookstore as a way of putting polyphony in the hands of parishioners. It worked, and I would highly recommend this same approach to anyone else.

The rite is Tridentine, but what you hear is applicable in every way to the new Rite as well. The Masses they record aren't common. Who has ever heard, e.g., Orlando di Lasso's Missa Bell' Amfitrit' altera for double choir? That's the CD I don't have but will soon buy.

Why aren't they available on Amazon, Ignatius, or another site? I have no idea. I'm supposing that the conductors and singers are academics without the right connections, or they just haven't been discovered yet, or something along those lines. In any case, I'm almost willing to cite this as a case of "market failure" that these aren't more available.

It is certainly worth the effort to print out the order form (I know, that sounds anachronistic) and write a check (if you still have some laying around somewhere). You will be devoted to these recordings, I promise.

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