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Disc review: The Monks of Norcia, Benedicta: Marian Chant From Norcia

Classical

The Monks of Norcia

Benedicta: Marian Chant From Norcia

[Decca Universal]

Four stars

In our increasingly noisy and overloaded world, the calm of Gregorian chant clearly has a lot to offer. Steve Jobs, it should be noted, often had it on his iPod. This disc from an Italian Benedictine monastery – Norcia is the birthplace of St. Benedict – is currently one of the top sellers of Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and it is far from the first chant recording to sail up the charts. Beginning with the ringing of the monastery bells – you can hear the pull of the ropes – this CD brims with spirit and atmosphere. You can picture the monks rising at 3:40 a.m. to sing the Matins, or morning prayer.

The voices are really as one and you can catch the Latin words. I recognized the Regina Caeli, an Eastern antiphon, and even a casual listener will recognize the ancient hymn Concordi Laetitia as the Christmas carol “The Friendly Beasts.” These chants are all in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary and they carry you through the seasons: Christmas, Lent, Easter, the Assumption. But it’s interesting to note not all the music is medieval. The booklet lets you in on when the music originated – there is some from the 18th and 19th centuries and one is actually an original, though you would never know. “It’s not a museum piece. We live this,” the prior of the order, who is American, said on NPR. By the way, the NPR profile also pointed out that besides making CDs, they also make beer. I imagine the two would go well together.

– Mary Kunz Goldman

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