Advent at Ephesus (CD review)

Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles. Decca B0017837-02.

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) hope the present disc may help rectify that situation.

The Sisters’ voices are sweet and pure. There are no outstanding virtuosos among them, perhaps, yet as a group they sing like angels, their voices harmonizing with a celestial precision.

The Sisters sing sixteen selections that celebrate various Feasts, Meditations, Offices, Masses, and Holy Days of the Church. With these selections, we find some songs in Latin, some in English, some Gregorian chant, some traditional, some anonymous, some dating as far back as the Fifth Century, most from Medieval and Renaissance times.

Among the hymns you’ll hear are “Come thou Redeemer of the Earth,” “Angelus Ad Virginem,” “Gabriel’s Message,” “Hayl Mary,” “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” “Benedixisti Domine,” “Maria Walks Among the Thorn,” “O Come Divine Messiah,” “Vox Clara,” “Like the Dawning,” and other such numbers.

It’s a wide and surprisingly diverse collection of devotional psalms and anthems the Sisters sing, with one thing in common: a single purpose in praising the Lord. Although the individual tracks are relatively brief (two-to-three minutes apiece) and the disc’s total playing time of just over forty-eight minutes may seem short measure, the songs do tend to have a similar spirit and feeling throughout, despite their variety, so maybe the album’s length is just about right for optimum listening pleasure.

The main thing is that the Sisters maintain a high musical standard, and the performances are the very ideal of serene contemplation. It’s all quite beautiful; you might even say heavenly.

According to the accompanying booklet, Decca and De Montfort Music recorded the disc at the Priory of Our Lady of Ephesus in October of 2012, which seems remarkable given that I received the product in November, the very next month. The acoustic is appropriately reverberant for a liturgical setting, so expect the room reflections to amplify and smooth out the voices somewhat. Given the dozen or so persons involved, the stereo spread sounds a bit constricted left to right, affording them plenty of distance from the listener yet without sacrificing much in the way of clarity. The distancing tends, instead, to add to the resonant nature of the presentation, increasing the realism.

And to hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


JJP

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first 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 use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

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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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa