Friday, January 16, 2009

That Portland Sound

I've now listened at length to Inclina Domine, the new CD from Cantores Ecclesia of Portland, Oregon. You have to hand it to the publisher and especially the director Dean Applegate. This is one of the most inspired performances of chant I've heard: convincing, confident, and full of conviction.

It is a unusual lineup: a fully sung Latin Mass in the ordinary form for the 21st Sunday of the year, using the propers that employ a theme of harvest, as well at Mass XI for the ordinary chants. The voicing uses trebles (boys, girls, women) and low voices, both alternating and together. The idea here was to get away from holiday chant CDs and CDs of chant hymns, and focus instead on the core of the repertoire that makes up the music of the Mass in the Roman Rite.

What strikes you immediately is the interesting absence of caution. It is as if an ethos is alive among the singers: we are here to really sing this music and everyone must pull his or her weight. There are no followers or leaders; only singers. I noted this when I spent a few days with Cantores last year during the Byrd Festival. The singers love what they do and can't wait to do it. Nothing is brittle. Nothing is reticent. Nothing is fearful. The music leaves the page completely and takes flight as if it were never written down.

The sound and feel of the chant has a fiery quality that gives it a notable forward motion, through melismas and held notes. The sound never lags, never pulls back. Every phrase is linked to the next. The pauses and rhythmic approaches are unified as if every singer is thinking about the music in precisely the way every other singer is.

It strikes me that this is really the result of a confluence of events together with brilliant leadership. They have been singing this music in a continuous tradition dating back many decades, which, in the U.S., is a long time; they are now on the third or fourth generation of singers, with each group teaching the next. They have had one conductor, who studied with Mary Berry in England.

The results go beyond most recordings of chant you hear. These are neither monks nor novices. They are experienced professionals who have sung every week for many years. The results strike me as completely persuasive at every step. You might say that the approach is eccentric in some way, a distinct "Portland chant" that beautifully reveals the capacity of this music for endless reinvention.

Kerry McCarthy writes the liner notes, and her prose might have appeared in Sacred Music. She writes of the normative aspect of this music for the Roman Rite, the place of chant in our history, the 2nd Vatican Council and more. Let's hope this text is widely read among the many who will surely purchase this CD.

The tracks here are listed in alphabetical order because I've copied this list from the OCP site:

Actus Paenitentialis
Ad Doxologiam
Agnus Dei XI
Alleluia: Tu es Petrus
Ante Praefationem
Antiphona ad Communionem: De fructu
Antiphona: Pax Aeterna
Cantus Offertorium: Exspectans
Collecta: Hebdomada XXI
Credo I
Dimissio-Ite Missa Est XI: Missa Orbis Factor
Domine, Non Sum Dignus
Evangelium: Hebdomada XXI
Gloria XI: Missa Orbis Factor
Graduale: Bonum est confiteri
Hymnus: Te Deum Laudamus
Introitus: Inclina Domine
Kyrie XI
Libera nos
Orate, Fratres
Oratio Post Communionem
Oratio Super Oblata
Oratio Universalis
Pater Noster
Post Consecrationem
Prex Eucharistica II
Prima Lectio: Hebdomada XXI
Ritus Pacis
Sanctus XI
Secunda Lectio: Hebdomada XXI
Signum Crucis

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