Easter at Ephesus (CD review)

Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles. Decca B0022686-02.

Easter at Ephesus is the fourth album by the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, and if it sells as many copies as their previous discs, the sisters will be close to challenging the Beatles for most albums sold. Maybe we'll hear them singing The Beatles Songbook next. I tease, of course. The sisters sing like angels, and they deserve every bit of respect, praise, and admiration they receive.

As the accompanying booklet describes them, "The Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles is a monastic institute of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph under the authority of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei. Consecrated to the Queen of Apostles, their lives are dedicated to contemplative prayer especially for priests. They support themselves primarily by making priestly vestments and tending a small farm. Professing 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." Furthermore, "All proceeds designated by the contract either by flat fee, advance or royalties will be directed to the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, which is a registered charity. The funds will be used to assist the nuns in all aspects of their community."

Their aim this time out is the observance of Easter, the Resurrection of Christ, in twenty-seven musical selections. They describe the program in this way: "The holy season of Easter spans fifty days from Easter (tracks 1-18) through Ascension and the Feast of Mary, Queen of Apostles (tracks 19-23) and finally crowned by Pentecost (tracks 24-27). We pray that all who hear these hymns will be strengthened in their faith in the Risen Lord."

Here's the track list:

  1. Anonymous: "This Is the Day"
  2. Aichinger: "Regina Caeli"
  3. Köln Jesuit: "The Clouds of Night"
  4. Wipo: "Victimae Paschali"
  5. Traditional: "Alle Psallite Cum Luya"
  6. Anonymous: "Christ the Lord Hath Risen"
  7. Ravanello: "Haec Dies" (4 Part)
  8. Ravanello: "Pascha Nostrum"
  9. Anonymous: "Jesus Christ Is Ris'n Today"
10. Kichengesäng: "Regina Caeli Jubila"
11. Palestrina: "Alleluia Ye Sons"
12. Palestrina: "Sicut Cervus"
13. Tisserand: "O Sons and Daughters"
14. Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles: "Regina Caeli"
15. Saint Venance de Fortunat: "Salve Festa Dies"
16. Gallus: "Haec Dies" (8 Part)
17. Anonymous: "Exultemus Et Laetemur"
18. Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles: "Her Triumph"
19. Carturan: "Ascendit Deus"
20. Anonymous: "Sing We Triumphant Hymns of Praise"
21. Lassus: "Oculus Non Vidit"
22. De Corbeil: "Concordi Laetitia"
23. Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles: "Queen of Priests"
24. Herman: "Veni Sancte Spiritus"
25. Ravanello: "Confirma Hoc Deus"
26. Ravanello: "Veni Creator"
27. Lambilotte: "Come Holy Ghost"

The sisters sing some of the pieces in Latin, some in English. The composers noted above wrote most of the selections, although some are traditional, some anonymous, and some original to the choir. And, yes, they all my favorites, but if you're going to press me, here are a few I liked best: "Regina Caeli" and "The Clouds of Night" reflect the simplicity and grace of the choir. The Medieval flavor of "Victimae Paschali" takes us back to another age, as does "Alle Psallite Cum Luya," and they remind us just how long folks have been singing and enjoying these tunes. I loved the individual voices and harmonies in "Haec Dies," both 4 part and 8 part. "Confirma Hoc Deus" and "Veni Creator" also have a wonderfully grand, triumphant, yet gentle spirit about them.

As always, the sisters sing in sweet, heavenly harmony, their voices fluid and precise. You almost expect Julie Andrews to step out for a solo. And I suppose the two most striking aspects about the singers beyond their unquestioned musicality are their gentleness and simplicity. Their wholly unaffected vocals bring an added conviction and beauty to each piece they sing. They are quite remarkable.

Producer Christopher Alder and engineer Philip Siney recorded the songs for Decca Records and de Montfort Music at the Priory of Our Lady of Ephesus, December 2014. The first thing one would probably notice about the sound is the realistically reverberant acoustic of its setting. The sisters really do sound as though they're singing in a natural acoustic. No close-up studio miking here, just a lifelike a flow of voices with a pleasant ambient bloom around them. Beyond that, the voices are clear and vibrantly captured, from the softest whisper to the loudest climax. The sound is wide, full, rich, and entirely satisfying.

JJP

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


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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.

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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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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa