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My CD Review for WholeNote of Ensemble Scholastica’s Ars Elaboratio

Ars elaboratio Ensembe Scholastica ATMA ACD2 2755

These days, the kids call them remixes, but in the hands of musicolo­gist Rebecca Bain, the music on Ars elabor­atio is the product of taking plainchant and adding tropes from other sources to create new versions. This was not unheard of in the millennium that was not litigious about intellectual property and it was common because of a more flexible and oral, rather than notated, tradition of handing music down. Think of this as more serious Mediæval Babes repertoire with scholastic­ally informed liberties, which in that era were called elaborations.

The result is litanies, antiphons, poetry and scripture that are often mesmerizing and calming, especially with the addition of symphonia or, in the instrumental version of Claris vocibus, of organetto, a portable precursor to the pipe organ, played with one hand on the keyboard and the other working the bellows. The medieval pronunciation charmed this Latinist, although I may have heard some elision, as in spoken Latin poetry recitation, which may throw some listeners. And there are spots in the CD booklet that omit the original liturgical text that is discussed (e.g. the melisma on “mulierum” in Velox impulit) so that only the tropes can be followed, if that is your wont.

The fascinating background to some of the elaborations contains some ballsy feminist stuff (praise of the chastity of innocent virgins aside), such as the one in Dilexisti iustitiam, in which St. Catherine of Alexandria kicks some male philosophical-debate butt. The approachable narrative in Sancti baptiste of “amice Christi Johannes” ([O] John, friend of Christ) reflects the presumed (relative) egalitarianism of the coeducational abbey of St. Martial de Limoges in the 1100s.

The acoustics of the Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours in Old Montreal lend them­selves to a lovely presentation of the organic nine-voice Ensemble Scholastica. Hildegard of Bingen must be pumping her fist in coelis.

This article appeared in the print and online version of the March 2017 issue of WholeNote Magazine.

My CD Review for WholeNote of Arvo Pärt’s The Deer’s Cry

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Arvo Pärt – The Deer’s Cry Vox Clamantis; Jaan-Elk Tulve ECM New Series ECM 2466

A mixture of the new and old recorded here by Estonian choir Vox Clamantis, this CD includes the world-recording premiere of Habitare fratres in unum and the largely plainchant And One of the Pharisees, which had its world premiere in California in 1992. There is a variety of Pärt’s music here: from the innocence-evoking Drei Hirtenkinder aus Fátima to the ode to a gittern, Sei gelobt, du Baum. (Google the latter via leones.de!).

Serendipitously, I started my day reading St. Patrick’s fourth-century prayer, The Deer’s Cry, and the title track contains a purity I would compare to David Lang’s I Lie. The Alleluia-Tropus is different than my recording by Vox Clamantis with Sinfonietta Riga: at a decade’s distance, this a cappella version is 25 seconds longer and less dance-like, perhaps the liturgical pace being more fitting for the intercession of St. Nicholas of Myra. Most notable to me, however, was Summa, a tintinnabulous piece containing the Apostle’s Creed in Latin. While it is recorded here a cappella, as originally written, I only have the string versions of it, which convey swells of movement (indeed, I made a little film with it accompanying a murmuration); the choral is more plodding and deliberate in its affirmation of belief – I could picture Joan of Arc reciting it defiantly, atop the pyre as she awaits the lighting of the wood. The CD ends with Gebet nach dem Kanon, a fitting closing prayer to the collection.The liner notes are Pärtesque: sparse, multilingual and presuming knowledge of his work and litur­gical music history. But if you enjoy looking up information (e.g. the Russian scriptures have different versification at times: Drei Hirtenkinder is about the West’s Psalm 8:2), there’s a wealth of enlightenment available. Artistic director Jaan-Eik Tulve has applied the 81-year-old composer’s personal tutelage faithfully, and Pärt devotees will be enrap­tured, the faithful and secularists alike.

 

This review originally appeared on page 80 of the December 2016–January 2017 issue of The WholeNote magazine. You can watch the murmuration film to Summa here.