12 February 2009

Anthology: Chants and Polyphony from St. Michael's Abbey

St. Michael's Abbey, located in Orange County, California, is comprised of a group of Norbertine Canons Regular. From its humble beginnings, when seven priests fled their homeland of Hungary to begin a new permanent monastic community in America, it has now grown to nearly seventy members. European monastic communities have almost exclusively been the ones to record and release albums of Gregorian chant; St. Michael's bears the unique distinction of offering Gregorian chant as sung by an American abbey.

After the successful release of their Christmas album, a small taste of which you can sample here, this group of white-clad monks has now given us Anthology: Chants and Polyphony from St. Michael's Abbey. Opening with G.P. de Palestrina's delicate polyphonal Tu Nobis Dona and closing with the haunting and lovely responsory Verbum Caro, this CD is comprised of an eclectic cross section of chants sung at the abbey, whether liturgical or Renaissance-era pieces.

From its CD jacket:
This recording came about as a result of very concrete circumstances. After the Easter Vigil of 2002 in our abbey church, our retired founding abbot was so taken with the simple beauty of the Tracts (chants sung between the 7 readings from the Old Testament) that he proposed the community record them, to have a testimony of their beauty.... As things developed, and once we got everyone in front of the microphones in the abbey church, recording went so smoothly that suggestions poured in from the singers for other material they wanted to record, including some polyphonic pieces. Finally, we asked Fr. Chrysostom Baer, who was then still a deacon, to record the Exultet as he had sung it at the Easter Vigil.
Palestrina's Ave Maria, to take an example, is artfully and exquisitely sung, the monks' voices rivalling those of any professional choir, while the liturgical chants can only make one wish more parishes would implement Vatican II's directives by giving first place to Gregorian chant in its liturgy--and with voices like these to populate their scholas! The founding abbot's wishes have been fulfilled, as this collection of music is indeed a testimony to the beauty not only of chant but also of the monastic simplicity from which it has sprung.

The CD can be purchased here, and all royalties will be given to St. Michael’s Abbey Expansion Project.