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O Rex Orbis: Medieval Plainchant For Saint (Dig)

Exsultemus / Canavin / Rice
Release Date: 02/12/2013 
Label:  Musique En Wallonie   Catalog #: 1267  
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

O REX ORBIS Shannon Canavin, cond; Eric Rice, cond; Exsultemus MUSIQUE EN WALLONIE MEW 1267 (78:32 Text and Translation)


Charlemagne, crowned Emperor of the West by Pope Leo III in 800, died in 814. Three hundred fifty years later, after many ups and downs in the continuation of imperial power, the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, the first to style himself Holy Roman Read more Emperor, found it convenient to enhance the prestige of his office by having Charlemagne canonized, named a saint. After all, isn’t that what “holy” means? Fortunately, the papacy, then enduring the same ups and downs that Charlemagne’s successors had known, briefly had two claimants to the papal throne, and Paschal III, later called an antipope, was happy to oblige Barbarossa, so January 28 became the feast of St. Charlemagne, a date now observed only in the diocese of Aachen, since the acts of the antipope no longer have any force. (Much later Benedict XIV conceded him the title of Blessed.) A rhymed Office was composed; this generous disc provides a selection of these chants. Unlike most recordings of late Offices, which often focus on the responsories of Matins, this offers First Vespers and Compline; seven of the Matins responsories had already been recorded by the Schola Maastricht in 1999 for a Dutch label not widely distributed.

An appropriate selection of polyphony composed by maestros of the cathedral in Aachen adds variety to the program. Johannes Mangon (c.1525-78), represented by four motets and a hymn, served there until the plague took him. His successors, Lambertus de Monte (d. 1606) and Michael Wilhelm (d. 1610), are represented by a Magnificat and a hymn. At least the first two maestros came from Liège. A motet by Lassus (copied into the Aachen choirbook by Mangon) and another by Ludovicus Episcopius of nearby Maastricht are also included as examples of the wider devotion to the emperor. Eric Rice wrote an article related to this matter in 2009, “Music and Ritual in Charlemagne’s Marienkirche in Aachen.” He even brought this ensemble to Aachen to celebrate the feast day in 2006.

This ensemble, based in Boston, has been giving concerts and selling CDs of their concerts as far back as a decade ago, but this seems to be their first commercial recording. The group of nine singers is remarkable for the straightforward singing of the chant without any fussy attempts to do something distinctive with it. In the polyphony, too, the vocal sound, the balance of sections, and the responsiveness to the director are first-rate. Rice’s notes are detailed, especially useful in explaining the liturgy and chant for a non-specialist. This is an elegant hardcover book (normal CD size) of 72 pages, similar to another reviewed here, highly recommended on all counts.

FANFARE: J. F. Weber
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