Review of CD: Compline – In manus tuas
The Benedictine Nuns of St Cecilia’s Abbey, Ryde
Price £7 each, plus £1.50 p & p (for up to four CDs). Cheques payable to St Cecilia’s Abbey. Address: Appley Rise, Ryde, Isle of Wight, PO33 ILH. For internet banking ring 01983 562 602. Credit card payments are not available via St Cecilia’s, but the CD can be bought from the Farnborough Abbey online shop: www.theabbeyshop.com
This CD is greatly to be welcomed. In it the nuns of St Cecilia’s give us not only very fine singing of the Compline chants, but they also convey to us the spiritual life that lies behind them. Listening to their singing becomes imperceptibly an act of prayer; indeed it would be hard to hear it in purely musical terms, though its technical quality is easily of a standard for that. These are not professional singers, but they have certainly become specialists, and in terms of quality and suppleness of tone, of phrasing, of dynamics, their singing is remarkable. To say that the vocal quality is ‘pure’ would be, though true, too much of a cliché, but it is extraordinarily clear, strong and assured. The singing by a solo voice of the passage Videbunt faciem Domini from the Apocalypse is quite remarkable in its clarity and immediacy. You get the impression that they succeed without really trying, which of course isn’t true. Ars est celare artem.
It is excellent that the tone used for the psalms (always 4, 90 & 113 at Benedictine Compline) is the tonus in directum given in the old Benedictine Hours of 1933, which is still occasionally heard, though much less than it was, in Benedictine houses. That may change, as it is now printed in Vol. 1 of the new Antiphonale Monasticum, as an optional tone for Sundays. In the hymn Te lucis ante terminum and elsewhere the generous acoustic of the abbey church warms and amplifies the sound. The engineers have wisely decided to let the resonance work for the voices instead of ‘drying out’ the sound, as is sometimes mistakenly done, and the placing of the microphones seems to have been exactly right.
An outstanding feature of the disc is that we get all four Marian antiphons in both solemn and simple tones, so it covers the whole of the liturgical year. Finally, the inlay booklet is full and detailed, with all the texts in Latin and English (the singing is entirely in Latin) and is designed to help us to join in the office in prayer, not be mere auditors. The Community is to be congratulated on this fine disc, and thanked for enabling us to join in their night prayer by means of it, as often as we wish.