OFFERTORIUM • Karlheinrich Hodes, dir; Chant Schola of the Robert Schumann Hochschule Düsseldorf • MOTETTE CD 50471 (72:47 Text and Translation)
The most fascinating genre of Western plainchant is certainly the offertory with its verses. The genre, one of the Proper chants of the Mass, dates back to around the seventh century, but the verses dropped out of liturgical use around the 12th century and are not found in modern editions. A symposium was held in Trondheim, Norway, in 2004 bringing together theRead more leading scholars in the field; the proceedings were published as The Offertory and its Verses: Research, Past, Present and Future, edited by Roman Hankeln (Trondheim: Tapir, 2007). Most recently, Rebecca Maloy, one of the participants, published Inside the Offertory: Aspects of Chronology and Transmission (New York: Oxford, 2010). Along with her book are parallel editions of the Gregorian and Old Roman offertories on the publisher’s website, supplementing the edition of the Gregorian offertories edited by Carl Ott in 1935 (reprinted with neumes as Offertoriale Triplex, Solesmes, 1985). The verses exhibit unusual verbal repetitions, and long melismas require expert soloists who can display extraordinary virtuosity.
All of this is background for the most impressive single recording of this genre, issued on LP more than two decades ago but still available on CD. In the Trondheim book, I compiled a discography of 189 recordings of Ott’s edition (plus some Old Roman and Milanese offertories as well), but there are now more than 30 additional recordings. All of these new ones and most of the older ones are listed at chantdiscography.com (search: offv), though not all the older ones have been entered yet. But Hodes’s disc is remarkable because of the 10 chants recorded here; eight of them are sung with their verses, the largest group ever brought together. All of them are complete, unlike many recordings that include only one or two verses (the chants have from one to four verses each). The highlight of the disc is Sanctificavit Moyses, one of the more frequently discussed pieces, sung at full length (over 17 minutes). It is even more interesting because this can be compared with a recording of the Old Roman version by Schola Hungarica (HCD 12741), equally complete though sung twice as fast.
This disc is one of a large series on Motette directed by Hodes in which 17 discs are devoted to the genres of chant, nine more discs are devoted to major feasts, and three more are special programs; there are also five discs of the entire Office and Mass of the Assumption sung by the nuns of Mariendonk. All are on CD except the first two issues (gradual and tract), which included lengthy commentary in German; the CDs were planned to replace the commentary with more chants, but they have never been issued. The whole series can be found on the website (search: hodes). Hodes was guided in his interpretation by Willibrord Heckenbach, then the choirmaster at Maria Laach, so the chant follows the traditional Solesmes interpretation rather than the more recent semiological approach.
The cover art is reminiscent of the argument that CDs are not as attractive as LPs because the space is so limited. The LPs in this series each had a stunning color photo of the facing pages of an open chant manuscript, but reduced to the CD booklet, the covers are less impressive. The LPs also had much more elaborate notes. Still, these are minor complaints that do not disable a remarkable entry in chant recording. It is truly a classic.