Chant Wars. The Carolingian «gobalisation» of medieval plainchant / Sequentia & Dialogos

Chant Wars
The Carolingian «gobalisation» of medieval plainchant
Ensembles Sequentia & Dialogos
Sony BMG 82876-66650-2

I. The MYTH of Gregorian Chant

01 - Trope (Prologus antiphonarii). Gregorius praesul   (7:41)

II. Trace of ORAL CHANT from ROME & GAUL

02 - Gradual (Roman schola chant). Ad Dominum dum tribulaer   (4:32)
03 - Roman psalmody (in directum). In convertendo Dominus   (3:54)
04 - Gallican antiphon ad communicandum. Venite, populi  (2.23)


05 - Tractus (St. Gall). Domine, exaudi orationem meam   (5:49)
06 - Sequence (NOTKER of St. Gall). Natus ante saecula   (3:44)


07 - Alleluia. Prosechete laos  (alleluia in greek)   (3:14)
08 - Tractus. Saepe expugnaverunt   (5:07)
09 - Offertory. Deus enim firmavit   (8:19)

V. Chant in FRANKISH Books and Memories

10 - Psalmody alleluiaticum. Laudate Dominum   (5:04)
11 - Lament on the death of Charlemagne (814). A solis ortu usque ad occidua   (9:23)
BB (voice, lyre)
12 - Processional antiphon. Collegerunt pontifices   (5:16)
13 - Acclamations for the Emperor (Laudes regiae). Christus vincit   (10:24)

BB Benjamin Bagby
OD Olivier Delafosse
OG Olivier Germond
KL Katarina Livljanic
VP Vincent Pislar
BR Branislav Rakic
JPR Jean-Paul Rigaud
WS Wolodymyr Smishkewych
MLS Michael Loughlin Smith

The image of monks on steroids may be a bit much for some to entertain, but for listeners used to most modern interpretations of what's usually called "Gregorian chant", these performances of various types of chant from the Middle Ages will definitely seem "pumped-up", although never grotesquely or untastefully so. The singers of early-music groups Sequentia and Dialogos, the former led by Benjamin Bagby, the latter by his wife Katarina Livljanic, aim not only to illustrate the differences among chant traditions at a critical point in the repertoire's history, but also to enliven its usually refined character and re-imagine it as concert-performance music. In other words, these very scholarly-minded yet theatrically savvy performers take out of context what normally are sung as prayers, meditations, processionals, and celebratory expressions in the church liturgy and present them instead as entertainment. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially if you want modern audiences to listen and hear what proves to be a highly varied, colorful, and often very beautiful song repertoire that's so often badly sung, misunderstood, and relegated to stylistic mediocrity.

Of course, the fact is that today we have no idea exactly how these ancient chants were sung (many of them more than 1000 years old), nor can we say with certainty how a particular rhythm was inflected, how a note value was held, or how the Latin text was pronounced. Often notation is incomplete or inconclusive--or nonexistent. Indeed, as true for every group involved with performing early chant, many of the pieces sung here are reconstructions and newly imagined recreations drawn from existing manuscripts or composed based on thorough knowledge of chant forms and styles.

Bagby, Livljanic, and their colleagues are as good and as engaging as any interpreters/imaginers of this repertoire (and better singers than most), and their idea to demonstrate--as well as have fun with--the multifarious chant styles that existed during the time of Charlemagne, and to effectively show how difficult would be the emperor's attempt to resolve the conflicting traditions by unifying them under his authority, is mostly successful and entertaining--although probably more so in these groups' live concert performances. The few extended, solo-voice chants go on longer than most ears will attend, but the singers were wise to keep things moving with different tempos, inflective styles, and type and number of voices from chant to chant.

Most dynamic and impressive are the antiphonal, or "call-and-response" chants such as "Laudate dominum", where the cantor sings the psalm and the choir responds "alleluia", and the program's final selection "Christus vincit", a vibrant, exciting exchange involving powerfully sung declamations and equally strong choral responses, in unison and in harmony. Bagby's harp joins in near the end of the disc, accompanying a moving lament on the death of the Emperor Charlemagne. Overall, the singing is full-voiced and very agreeable in tone and timbre--while also more energetic than we usually hear in liturgical chant. The interpretations also are expertly, imaginatively realized, the lines well-shaped and naturally inflected. The sound on this hybrid SACD takes full advantage of the famed acoustics of the medieval abbey at Fontevraud, France, and the liner notes give this uniquely conceived program a clear, easy-to-digest context.

David Vernier,