COMPOSERS: Gregorian Chant
WORKS: Pentecost at Pontigny
PERFORMER: Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge/Mary Berry
CATALOGUE NO: HAVPCD 161 DDD
The performing style of Gregorian chant has certainly moved on apace since the first experimental recordings were made over half a century ago. France, which found itself at the heart of the revival movement, produced recordings that were both erratic and fascinating. Bulging notes and uneasy intonation characterised much of the singing of the period, but also captured on these recordings was a strong fervour and a uniquely special atmosphere. Decades of study and re-evaluation have stimulated the blossoming of ‘modern-day’ groups such as Schola Gregoriana under Mary Berry.
Their latest offering consists of music for Pentecost and also music honouring the Abbey’s three ‘Patron’ Archbishops of Canterbury. There is a fresh but virile sound to these voices, and their fluent, no-nonsense approach to hymn-singing is persuasive. The all-male items such as ‘Thomas gemma’ and ‘Salve Regina’ come off particularly well. Another of their discs (Herald HAVPCD148) is similarly recommendable. A selection of chants from the liturgical year comes from the Benedictine Nuns of St Cecilia’s Abbey, Ryde.
The style of performance here is not dissimilar to that of Schola Gregoriana, in that there is no unnecessary heavy syllabic accentuation, which can make for tiresome listening. Unfortunately, voices sound strained occasionally, and when accompanied lightly by the organ some flat singing is highlighted. For further exploration into Gregorian chant in the Herald series, try HAVPCD 122, 131 and 148. Stephen Haylett