Audiophile Audition

Canty is a woman’s group a la Anonymous 4 that is here offering a special disc devoted to plainchant featuring texts from the feast of St. Patrick. There are a variety of sources, some quite ancient and others much more recent, the oldest dating back to 1200 (there is only one Irish office devoted to the saint in existence). This certainly reflects ancient usage in some instances; others, such as the inclusion of a verse about Purgatory, would be highly suspect for a saint from the fourth century.

The offices included on this disc are first and second vespers, matins, and lauds. Matins, in the east as well as the west, contains the most richly varied music and is the longest service content-wise also. We are treated to a loaded program—38 tracks of music that is probably not heard too often in its liturgical context outside of those few places that actually celebrate the saint with any sense of decorum and splendor. It is hard to categorize it; Roman, Ambrosian, and Sarum elements flood the ears when listening to this, and some of the melodies were known (according to the notes) to be in use in Medieval Scotland as well, often employing popular melodies in a sort of parody fashion, though not as sophisticated as the composers we know who made complex parody masses and other works. The one controversial element to this performance may indeed be the inclusion of the wire strung clarsach, an Irish harp, discreetly used in some of these pieces, improvised to great effect by William Taylor. The notes suggest that because of a “growing body” of evidence in iconographical sources that harps were used in Celtic religious houses that this music may have been accompanied in such a manner; I am a little more reserved about this statement. While it is true that the Irish church went its own way for several hundred years, the ban in east and west for nearly 1000 years on instruments being used in church is a rather powerful bulwark that overwhelming evidence needs present itself to overturn it.

The sound is clear and concise, nicely warmed by the light resonance surrounding the singers. This is an affectionate tribute well worth the time, especially for chant lovers.

—Steven Ritter