Monday, August 11, 2008

Chant from the Institute of Christ the King

Some of the most beautiful, even perfect, sounds of women in chant comes from a source I hadn't expected: The Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest. I wish there were an easier way to order this CD, which is worth every penny of the $21.00 price. The website only gives an email address. In any case, whatever the system is, if you love chant, this CD is for you, and not only for the Benediction chants of the Sister Adorers of the Royal Heart of Jesus, though this struck me most profoundly (not a speck of vibrato!). The entire CD is just splendid and expertly done.

Most of the CD is of men in chant, and without accompaniment, an approach that preserves the mystery and legendary solemnity of this music. I doubt you have heard most of these chants. The propers are from the Mass of Our Lord Jesus Christ Sovereign and Eternal Priest, and the Mass of Saints Peter and Paul. They sing Gloria I, Sanctus I, Agnus Dei I, and then Kyrie VI, Gloria III ad lib., Credo IV, Sanctus III, and Agnus Dei III.

I like that they have chosen these out-of-the way ordinary settings that one rarely hears -- and one can only hope that this will inspire EF congregations to move beyond popular favorites from the 1950s. The same is true of the Benediction chants. The sisters sing Tantum Ergo III from the Cantus Selecti and I hadn't known until I heard this that the four-square tune heard in most parishes (do re mi do, re mi fa re...) has this Gregorian precedent -- though it is not clear from the Cantus Selecti version when the chant dates from. It is very beautiful and I wonder if any readers know of it. It has given me new appreciation of the popular version. (By the way, there are fully 15 settings of Tantum in the Cantus!) The Magnificat trades between high and low voices to great effect, and the text is as precisely rendered as I've ever heard it.

The phrasing and rhythm represent a virtuoso demonstration of the old Solesmes approach, and you can't but marvel at the results. It compares to Stift Heiligenkreuz except that these priests and seminarians on this CD are singing the Roman Gradual, so it is particularly suited for pedagogy for those working in parishes. If you have only heard bad things about the old-school approach of singing chant, listen to this and see all the ways in which the caricatures are completely wrong. The music is fresh, fluid, unified, and gorgeous.

The management of the dynamics here is what stands out the most in the singing, and this is true for both men and women. The range is notably wide, and they employ the classic device of backing off the high portions of the each chant to great effect. Behind the undulations and dazzling waves of sound are endless hours of practice -- all toward the goal of making it sound effortless and prayerful, which it does in every way.

It is hard to believe that the entire package wasn't put together by a major recording company.

CODA: It turns out that you can buy it from here.

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