Angels and Saints at Ephesus (CD review)

Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles. Decca B0018437-02.

Because recorded liturgical music like chant has largely been the province of monks over the years, record companies have given rather short shrift to their female counterparts. The folks at De Montfort Music, Decca Records, and the Sisters at the Priory of Our Lady of Ephesus (the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, a monastic community located in rural Missouri) are clearly changing all that. When they made their first album, Advent at Ephesus, they surprised most of the music-listening world by producing a best-seller. There is no reason why this second album, Angels and Saints, shouldn't probably do the same.

The album's back cover describes the sisters thusly: "Consecrated to the Queen of Apostles, their lives are dedicated to contemplative prayer especially for priests. They support themselves primarily by making priestly vestments. Professing full obedience to the Church's teaching, the community upholds a loving commitment to preserving the liturgical heritage of the Church in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass and traditional monastic Office. This is their second recording with De Montfort Music and Decca Records."

The Sisters possess voices of the sweetest purity. While there may be no obvious virtuosos among them (or if there are, they would be too modest to admit it), as a group they continue to sing like angels, their voices harmonizing with celestial precision.

From what I read in the accompanying booklet, the Sisters chose each of the seventeen selections on the program to enrich their (and our) spirituality. As they say, they are "called to embrace a liturgical spirituality" because their lives "literally revolve around Christ as a many-faceted jewel.... The feats of the angels and saints reflect the light of world in their own way, reminding us to follow them.... These interspersed feasts are especially commemorated in song. The saints and angels are honored either in hymns written for them or, in many cases, hymns written by the saints themselves. Thus, we have a variety of composers represented from saints to clergymen to laypersons. No matter the author, the songs are deeply moving, some sung in English, some in Latin.

Whatever the occasion, the Sisters blend their voices in a most celestial manner, and it's hard for a person not to feel moved by the beauty and commitment they bring to their singing. As for favorites, it's impossible.  Nevertheless, I felt particularly taken by the tranquility of "Duo Seraphim" and "Veritas Mea"; the part singing in "Jesu Dulcis Memoria," and "Ave Regina"; and the simplicity of the late Medieval Sequence "Emicat Merides."

The program ends with a number that on its own could well become a best-seller: "Dear Angel Ever at My Side." It has all the ingredients for popular culture status in its sentiment, sincerity, and powerfully gentle presentation. If you liked the Sisters' first album, you'll surely like their second one as well.

At little more than forty-three minutes, the disc doesn't provide much material for a Decca classical album. However, maybe Decca figured it was really a crossover product, and the pop fans among its audience wouldn't expect as much. Or maybe the Sisters just ran out of breath. Who knows. In any case, you know it's a good album when the worst you can say about it is that there isn't enough.

DeMontfort Music recorded the Benedictines of Mary at the Priory of Our Lady of Ephesus in February, 2013. The venue seems fairly reverberant, so expect a richly resonant sound. Still, there is an exceptionally good clarity to the voices, even if they are sort of enshrouded by a veil of room reflections. The resonance tends to make the singing all the more comforting. Besides, we might have foretold to hear a chorus performing in a church setting to sound about the way we hear the sisters on this disc, so all is well.

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

JJP

1 comment:

  1. This record is one of the best records I have ever heard. Period. Stunning. I am at a loss for how to even describe its depth and beauty. Any emotional adjective to describe its richness would be a disservice to its absolute and total mastery. I looked at the song selection and thought it looked interesting - but when I heard it and when I have played this for anyone - all sound stands still. Thank you for sharing this post. Also - just heard about them on the news here in NY and see they are on Good Morning America tomorrow.

    ReplyDelete

John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

I've been listening to classical music most of my life, starting with the classical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first classical recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor. Today, I'm retired from teaching and using a pair of VMPS RM40s. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (moviemet.com, formerly DVDTOWN) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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