Thursday, May 22, 2008

That Chant CD

I couldn't wait for the July 1 release of the new chant CD from the Cistercian Abbey Stift Heiligenkreuz (which is already moving up the ranks on Amazon) so I bought my from the U.K., and it arrived yesterday. I waited a day to blog about it so that my post wouldn't be implausibly hysterical.

I do believe that this is the most wonderful, most perfect, sound I've heard yet on any chant recording. It is unaccompanied and the acoustics are flawless. What I find notable here is the perfect uniformity in pitch, pronunciation, vocal production, and, most strikingly, the style as revealed in the phrasing and dynamics. It is marvel. There is no audible leader at all. Every singer is producing at a level equal with ever other.

Of course, one wonders how this is possible, and I think the answer comes from the detail work behind the scenes in terms of counting. If you can listen to what is happening beneath the surface, you can detect an inaudible pulse that turns out to be regular and pervasive - the heartbeat that you do not necessarily hear but is the driving force behind the music.

There are differences between the chant these monks sing--some small issues of notes and rhythm--and what you will find in the Graduale Romanum. I do not know enough about Cistercian use here but I do see online examples of Cistercian Graduales from the 13th century, so I'm supposing that the minor differences are not due to some reconstruction work on the part of the monks but rather the tradition in their own monastery. So if you are seeking a CD to help you sing the Graduale, this is not it. If you are seeking a CD to help you understand style and rhythm or just simply to help you pray, I can't imagine anything better.

This is something I just found: a full website dedicated to the release. It is really worth spending some time here.

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