Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Gregorian Organ

Part of the thrill of discovering chant is that you find the roots of so much of music that shaped our history and continues to have an influence. It is like looking at the source code of a complex piece of software. You see the origins of things and find the essential beauty in the most fundamental data.

I can recall many years ago hearing Pange Lingua or Veni Creator or Te Deum and realizing that I had been hearing these chants all my life but in different forms. To explore the expanse of the original is as eye opening as the exploring the letters of a famous author or seeing the recipes for the best food you have ever eaten.

Ok, I'll stop with the stretched metaphors and get to the point. I've listened to the CD I've always wanted to hear but could never find. It pairs up Gregorian chant with some of the great organ elaborations on that chant. Back to back. The voice is permitted its full expanse of expression, then the organ follows with amazing restatements of the theme and elaborations.

The CD is The Gregorian Organ. The organ is played by Mark Williams, most famous in the United States for his work at the Byrd Festival, and the schola is made up of the men of the highly accomplished Cantores in Ecclesia directed by the legendary Dean Applegate.

The collection spans the ages. It begins with Kyrie fons bonitatis and follows with a piece by Bach that explores the same melody. If you ever doubted the extent to which Bach was influenced by chant, this confirms it all. Two additional pairings with chant and Bach follow. The selections then move forward in time with organ work by Jehan Alain, Nicholas de Grigny, Jean Langlais, Maurice Durfle, and Daniel Jen-Yves Lesur.

I received the CD last week and it has been on constantly. A note about the organ recording here: it is masterful. I often find recordings of organs seem not quite right, as if the instrument is too large to be capture properly on recordings. I don't know how but the producer here, Pro Organo, has done it right. And it goes without saying that the chant is perfect.

This CD is both an educational experience and a spiritual one as well, and I can't recommend it highly enough. Amazon lists a September 8th release.

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