Singing nuns are big right now. Two previous recordings from Decca Records and De Montfort Music with the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles went straight to the top of the music charts in 2012 and 2013. There is no reason to believe that this first album, Mater Eurcharistiae, from the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist shouldn’t do the same.
The booklet notes describe the Dominican Sisters of Mary as “a Roman Catholic community of women religious based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.” Their community “was founded in the Dominican tradition to spread the witness of religious life in accord with Pope John Paul II’s vision for a new evangelization. Through profession of the vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, along with a contemplative emphasis on Eucharistic adoration and Marian devotion,” their community “exists for the salvation of souls and the building of the church throughout the world.” As Dominicans, their “primary apostolate is the education and formation of young people.” They “remain open to engaging the modern culture with new forms of evangelization in order to preach the Gospel and teach the Truth.”
Of course, they sing in a heavenly manner. Whether or not you prefer them to the Benedictines of Mary is probably a question of the material they sing and your preference for one venue or another. Like the Benedictines of Mary, the Dominican Sisters possess voices of the sweetest purity. While there are no obvious virtuosos among them (or if there are, they would be too modest to admit it), as a group they sing like angels, their voices harmonizing with celestial precision.
The Dominican Sisters sing nearly half the songs on the album in English, the native language of the composers. Accordingly, some listeners may find their repertoire more easily accessible than everything in Latin. First up is “Holy Mary Mother of God,” an excerpt of which you can hear below. It’s obviously a lovely piece that well expresses the whole philosophy of the Sisters’ order. As important, they sing it, as they do all the numbers on the program, with a gentle, fluid, always lucid grace.
And so it goes throughout a total of fifteen selections, some new, some old; some very old, indeed, like dating back to Chant based on the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas. The choir sounds most expressive in each of the numbers, their voices blending well, their enunciation crisp. Favorites will be a matter of taste, of course, but my own liking was for the opening number, then "O Gloriosa Virginum" for the simplicity of its feeling; "Quid Retribuam" for its exquisite part singing; "I Am in Thy Hands O Mary" mainly for its enjoyable organ accompaniment; "Pange Lingua" for its evocation of the Middle Ages; "The Annunciation" for its purely popular appeal; and "Angels Ad Virginem" for its madrigal qualities. In all, a fine, thoughtful collection of spiritual choir selections, beautifully performed.
If I have any minor qualm about the album, it’s a criticism you’ve heard from me before: Not enough music. I suppose you know when you’ve become a full-fledged pop star when your recording company affords you only a limited recording time. Pop albums are notorious for providing a measly thirty or forty minutes of playing time, perhaps reflecting the old LP days when vinyl records would hold only about that amount of material. With the coming of CD’s, record companies were able to put up to eighty minutes of music on a silver disc, and with classical albums they did. Decca and De Montfort must think the Dominican Sisters are pop singers, not classical singers, since they give them only forty-three minutes of singing time. Relish those forty-three minutes.
Anyway, Decca Records, De Montfort Music, and the Dominican Sisters of Mary recorded the music at Motherhouse of The Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist in March, 2013. The sound is very dimensional and spacious, the voices and occasional organ accompaniment appearing much as they would in a large church setting. So we get a good sense of realism here, although it comes at the expense of some loss of inner detail because of the resonant acoustic. Still, the natural reverberation and the relatively lengthy decay time help to blend the voices nicely and offer a comfortable listening experience. There is a commendable distance between the listening position and the singers that also adds to the realism of the situation, and the organ (which is present on several of the selections) lends a hefty presence to the occasion.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here: