• Recording reviews

    Recommended recording: Noëls Celtiques – Celtic Christmas Music from Brittany

    One might easily assume that a disc of “Celtic Christmas music” would feature Irish or Scots or maybe Welsh folk music. But the Breton language is another Celtic tongue, closely related to Cornish and Welsh. The Breton people emigrated from Cornwall and Devon to Brittany beginning in the third century, to escape Anglo-Saxon invaders; Brittany is sometimes called Less, Lesser, or Little Britain. This unique Christmas recording captures some of the heritage of Brittany. A few songs on this album have known Welsh or Cornish ancestry, some are identified simply as “traditional,” and a few are more recent compositions. All of them are sung in Breton by the L’Ensemble Choral du Bout…

  • Recording reviews

    Recommended recording: Christmas Music from English Parish Churches, 1740-1830

    Irish-born Nahum Tate (1652-1715) spent most of his working life in London, where he was well-known as a poet and playwright. In 1692 he was named poet laureate, and in 1702 he was appointed the official royal historian. Today he is best known for having compiled (with poet/priest Nicholas Brady) A New Version of the Psalms, fitted to the tunes used in churches (1696). It was a collection of metrical paraphrases of the Psalms for use in worship. A Supplement was issued in 1700 which contained some new translations, as well as six hymns (as opposed to paraphrased Psalms) that were officially approved for use in worship. This was a…

  • Recording reviews

    Recommended recording: The Promise of Ages (Taverner Consort)

    On Christmas Eve in our parish, we heard a sermon about the mystery of the Incarnation. God loves flesh; how surprising is that?? His love for us is not an abstraction, but a Person born of a woman. The text to the fourteenth-century poem A spotless rose (discussed yesterday) compares Jesus to a rose from the root of Jesse. This situates the Messiah in human history, with all its fleshly particularity and vulnerability. Meanwhile, another medieval poem that has often been set to music — There is no rose — uses the imagery of the rose to describe the Virgin Mary, her body wondrously transcending the usual configuration of space and…

  • Recording reviews

    Recommended recording: Christmas Night (Cambridge Singers)

    Almost every year, someone in our parish asks me to recommend some recordings of Christmas music. Since I’ve been collecting such albums since before there were commercial cassette tapes readily available (let alone CDs or MP3s), it’s not easy to come up with a short list. Over the twelve days of Christmas, I hope to have the time and discipline to offer here some suggestions about music to listen to that transcends the tendency toward sentimentalism in the sounds of Christmas that characterizes (tragically) the experience of far too many people. I’ll start with a very approachable recording that features a number of familiar carols and hymns, including many arrangements that have been…

  • Recording reviews

    Recommended recording: Gregorian Chants (Advent)

    Earlier this week, I recommended a recording of Advent music sung by an all-female group, the sisters of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles. The current recording features an all-male ensemble, CantArte Regensburg. This album includes traditional Gregorian chant settings of many texts used liturgically during Advent, including texts from the propers for the Sundays in Advent (Introits, Gradual and Alleluia, Offertory, Communion) and the texts for the O antiphons, traditionally sung at Vespers during the last week of Advent. There are different ways of chanting these venerable works. Sometimes one hears recordings of monks who seem to have among their ranks sincere but somnabular brothers whose chanting may convey…

  • Recording reviews

    Recommended recording: Advent at Ephesus

    Not far from the ancient city of Ephesus is a small stone building traditionally known by Christians and Muslims as the “house of Mary.” Since the 19th century, the building has been maintained as a shrine to the Virgin Mother of Jesus. About 5,900 miles away — an hour’s drive north of Kansas City, Missouri — is the site of the Priory of Our Lady of Ephesus. It is the home of the small community of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles. The sisters living, working, praying, and singing there recognize a connection between their vocation and the house of Mary As their website explains: This little home is the…

  • Recording reviews

    Recommended recording: German Advent Music

    What might one expect from an album with the subtitle German Advent Music? From what genealogy does this music emerge? In Music in Early Lutheranism, an introductory guide to the tradition that gave the Church some of its most enduring musical achievements, Carl Schalk writes: The first two centuries of the Lutheran Reformation — the period between Martin Luther and Johann Sebastian Bach — produced a singularly impressive body of music written specifically for the worship life of the church. Less often noted is that this music developed as a clear result of Lutheranism’s understanding of worship and the important place it gave to the art form it considered next in importance to…

  • Recording reviews

    Recommended recording: Advent at St. Paul’s

    In a 1952 essay called “The World’s Last Night,” C. S. Lewis critiqued one of the great modern myths, a belief he called “developmentalism.” We have been taught to think of the world as something that grows slowly toward perfection, something that “progresses” or “evolves.” Christian Apocalyptic offers us no such hope. It does not even foretell (which would be more tolerable to our habits of thought) a gradual decay. It foretells a sudden, violent end imposed from without; an extinguisher popped onto the candle, a brick flung at the gramophone, a curtain rung down on the play — “Halt!” Lewis went on to urge Christians to give more attention to…

  • Recording reviews

    Recommended recording: Mendelssohn Church music

    Felix Mendelssohn was born into a prominent Jewish family in 1809. His grandfather, Moses Mendelssohn, was one of the most prominent Jewish intellectuals of the Enlightenment. But in 1816, Felix and his three siblings were all baptized into the Christian faith at his parents request by a Reformed Protestant minister in Berlin. As a young man, Felix would later disclose that he had become a follower of the Prussian Protestant theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher. Neither his baptism nor his numerous compositions of Christian sacred music were mere formalities. The best-known of his sacred choral works are the larger, longer, concert-sized works, especially the oratorio Elijah (1846). But there are many shorter…

  • Recording reviews

    Recommended recording: Selected works by Monteverdi

    On Trinity 24, our choir sang the Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei from a Mass by Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) published in 1641 (see here for more about the historical  significance of Monteverdi’s work). The Messa da Capella a quattro voci is a relatively late work by Monteverdi, and it demonstrates how he was able to write music that sustained the rich polyphonic textures of previous generations of composers (employing the “Stile antico”) even as he pioneered the innovative musical techniques of the early Baroque. This Mass was part of a collection called Selva morale e spirituale, “A moral and spiritual forest.” In the words of conductor Harry Christophers, “It is jam packed…