Saturday, October 18, 2008

Propers of Christmas: the CD

I've finally had the chance to listen to the bestselling CD of the Norbertines of St. Michael's Abbey. The concept is interesting and very focused. This is not a Gregorian sampler of any sort. Instead, the Canons Regular have chosen to present the propers (only the propers!) for three Christmas Masses: night, morning, and day. These are among the most beloved of the propers, and some even achieve some degree of mainstream familiarity. This CD helps you get to know them all with no distraction. I see the point of this kind of programming for a recording. It is very beautiful and intriguing to hear them in this way.

The manner of singing is completely unaffected. The ranges are not notably high or low but right in the comfort zone of the voice. The singing is relaxed, neither frenzied nor lazy. The pronunciation is also familiar. They sing together without any rhythmic theories driving them this way or that. It is steady and beautiful and unified.

The books they use are Norbertine, which are said to be distinct from the Roman Graduale, but in the passages I compared I found very few differences at all. So, in fact, this CD is useful for those who aspire to sing these propers in their parishes.

The form of Mass that this order uses, as I understand it, is the ordinary form, though the chants for OF and EF are identical for these three Masses, so far as I know. So I was particularly excited to see that they included the Christmas Sequence Laetabundus here. I have not heard this before, though I've seen it in chant books. It must appear on the Christmas Mass in the Norbertine books, though it is excluded in the Roman Gradual and Missal. How wonderful it would be to hear this in our parishes again. That it is used here in the ordinary form strikes me as very suggestive.

In any case, this is a very polished and prayerful performance, and the addition of abbey bells and other sounds is a nice touch. For those looking for authentic Catholic music for Christmas, we have here the very heart of the best music that tradition has to offer, all in one CD and without any interruption. This would be my choice for the season.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: