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Brian Wilson Download Roundup
MusicWeb International, April 2011

Plainchant dates from the earliest days of Christianity in Rome—Pope Gregory, whose name it usually now bears, merely organised the various tones associated with different parts of the liturgy and different times of the year. This Naxos recording assembles some of the texts for the Liturgy of Good Friday—not a Mass proper because this is the one day of the year when the Host is not consecrated. In the earliest times a Missa sicca, or ‘dry’ mass was celebrated; in later times, the celebrant alone communicated from the reserved sacrament.

With no Gloria, Sanctus, Benedictus or Agnus Dei to set, other parts of the liturgy received attention, so that here, as well as the Tract, Gradual and Gospel, the Adoration of the Cross—‘Behold the wood of the Cross’—the Improperia or Reproaches, and the hymn ‘Faithful Cross above all other’ are set. The Improperia—‘O my people, what have I done to you, or in what way have I saddened you?’—are a particularly ancient part of the rite, with alternating sections in Greek and Latin, and its drama is heightened on this recording by the use of two choirs. With the raw power of the Ensemble Organum/Marcel Pérès recording (Harmonia Mundi, Chants of the Roman Church), with a Greek cantor for the Improperia…this makes a very good substitute.

Apart from the Improperia, everything is sung in a placid and timeless style, so that even non-churchgoers and even non-believers are likely to find solace here, not just on Good Friday but at any time. At its very modest price, this is an excellent introduction to plainsong, with the minor reservation that, while the Latin texts are included in the booklet, no translations are offered. The notes by the President of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music, no less, are most helpful in setting the music in context.


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