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BENEDICTA: Marian Chant from Norcia
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Inspiring, beautiful music of Chant at it's very best - from Italy by The Monks of Norcia. BENEDICTA: Marian Chant from Norcia is the title for this new recording of 33 tracks of Gregorian chant, including favorite Marian antiphons such as "Regina Caeli" and "Ave Regina Caelorum" but also previously unrecorded chant versions of responsories and a piece originally composed by the monks ( Nos Qui Christi Iugum, ) Some pieces are sung by the entire group, some by smaller ensembles of monks and others by soloists, imbuing 'BENEDICTA' with a variety of sound. Recorded on location at the monastery in Norcia, Italy, the album was produced by 11-time Grammy Award-winning producer Christopher Alder and engineered by Grammy-Award winning engineer Jonathan Stokes.
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My advice for this album is the advice I give for all DeMontfort Music albums. Put it in your car, CD player at work, iPod, or wherever you will listen to it the most, and listen to it constantly. Meditate on it. Make it your daily prayer while you work, and your work will gain a whole new level of meaning. 5 stars.
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.
After a brief peal of the basilica's bells, the agenda begins with "Ave Maria... Virgo Serena." As with all of the selections on the program, it sounds cleanly enunciated by the monks, smoothly handled, and enthusiastically nuanced. My only quibble with the numbers is that most of them are so brief, one or two minutes apiece. Still, that can't be helped; these tunes have been around and sung for hundreds of years, and we have what we have, all of it very well rendered.
Favorites? Well, the four popular hymns I mentioned above, and also "Regali Ex Progenie" for the strength and fullness of the monks' voices; "Ecce Virgo Concipient" and "Tuam Ipsius Animam" for their refined solo and choir singing; "Gabriel Angelus" and "Concordi Laetitia" for their sweet spirit; and "O Gloriosa Domina" for its free-flowing melody.
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.