TO PRAY IN BEAUTY
Gabriel Bertoniere, cond; Cistercian Nuns of Mount St. Mary’s Abbey, Wrentham, Mass.
JADE M2-36623 (51:26
Text and Translation)
Cistercian chant (a repertoire also used by the Trappists, the strict branch of the order) is a distinct body of chants of Mass and Office, edited in the 12th century by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the most celebrated of the early Cistercians. The reform resulted in a more austere version of the chants, but the goal to recover the authentically pure early version is not regarded by modern scholars as successful. Modern editions of the chants have been published in Westmalle, Belgium, and a considerable number of recordings have been made, most famously the recent Decca CDs from Heiligenkreuz near Vienna (
32:2, 32:5). The nuns in Wrenthem recorded an LP for World Library of Sacred Music in about 1960, just reissued on Jade. (It seems that the impetus for that reissue came from a nun who sang for that recording so many years ago.) This new recording followed, sung by a schola of seven nuns directed by a Trappist monk. Seventeen Mass Propers are framed by two Office hymns. Some of these have never been recorded in the Cistercian version, but the introit
can be found on the first LP made by the Trappist monks of Gethsemani in 1950. (“Exurge” for “exsurge” is a typical example of variant spellings in these editions.) The opening hymn,
for saints of the order, was recorded on another mono LP by the monks in Spencer, Massachusetts.
The singing is notably fine, demonstrating the wisdom of rehearsing a select schola intensively. This ranks with the finest chant recordings made by American choirs. The voices blend well, the tempos are lively, and pitch is properly sustained. It should not be necessary to emphasize such aspects, but we have heard chant sung less well than this. Only the solo verses might have been rendered more firmly. Two introits are sung without the verse, though the printed text indicates otherwise. While the nuns in their daily routine sing in the vernacular most of the time, they retain the Latin chants in their services of worship two days a week. This is a good disc to use as an example of the Cistercian rite of chant.
J. F. Weber