Ever since De Montfort Music released a recording of sacred songs performed by the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles several years ago, the company has been turning out more and more such discs of religious-inspired tunes. Their latest project is from the Monks of Norcia, and, as anticipated, the singing is very good and the material very old and deeply ingrained in the Catholic faith.
Marian antiphons (pieces in a call-and-response style of singing) are a group of hymns in the Gregorian chant collection of the Catholic Church, sung in honor of the Virgin Mary. Here, the Monks of Norcia sing thirty-three such antiphons, including the four in most common usage for the past 700 years: "Alma Redemptoris Mater," "Ave Regina Caelorum," "Regina Coeli," and "Salve Regina." In addition, their repertoire embraces several previously unrecorded chant versions of responsories, plus a work originally composed by the singers.
The Benedictine Monks of Norcia are members of the Order of St. Benedict, and their monastery is in Norcia, Italy. The Monks take care of the spiritual, pastoral, and temporal needs of some 50,000 pilgrims from around the world who annually visit the birthplace of St. Benedict and St. Scholastica. And some of the monks sing in a choir, which is where we are here. The entire choir sing most of the pieces on the album, although smaller assemblies and soloists take on a few of the numbers, giving the program a good assortment of music that doesn't easily tire one out.
|The Monks of Norcia|
Now, philistine that I am, I couldn't help wondering as I listened to this album what a mixed choir of the Monks of Norcia and the Benedictines of Mary might sound like. De Montfort, take note.
Grammy Award-winning producer Christopher Alder and engineer Jonathan Stokes recorded the music on location at the Monks' monastery in Norcia, Italy. As we might expect from a recording done on location in a church chapel, the sound is fairly reverberant. Not only do we expect it, we desire it. The setting helps transport us to the venue, the hall resonance every bit a part of the presentation as the singing itself. In any case, the room reflections are not so severe as to muffle any of the music, and, indeed, the ambient bloom actually enhances the tunes, giving the choir and soloists a rich, vibrant quality. The voices are clear, well focused, without sounding bright, forward, or edgy. In fact, the voices are warm and rounded, with a lifelike sense of depth to the choir, just as the monks might appear in a live recital. In other words, this is a fine, realistic recording of a choir in its natural environment.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here: