Canty are a four-strong all-female group who have, with some justification, been compared with Anonymous Four. Their first CD, of music by Hildegard of Bingen and from medieval Scotland, was released on the Dorian label; two more recordings of medieval Irish and Scottish music followed on the ASV Gaudeamus label. Felix femina (CDGAU360) approximates the contents of a Ladymass, described by GPu as “a well-conceived and executed CD” – see review. GH was equally impressed with Flame of Ireland, music associated with St Bridget.
Now they turn their attention to a reconstruction of the music for First Vespers, Matins, Lauds and Second Vespers for St Patrick’s Day. They are joined, as before, by William Taylor playing a wire-strung clarsach or Gaelic harp. With minor reservations, this new CD deserves the praise which my colleagues gave to those ASV recordings.
St Patrick is, of course, much better known to the world in general than St Bridget, so the CD should have popular appeal, not least to the Irish community in the US. Recordings of chant appear to be flavour of the moment again, but I wonder how many potential buyers there will be for this reconstruction. The earlier ASV recordings already seem to have been deleted – at least I cannot find them on offer at online retailers – I hope the new CD fares better. Felix femina is still available from iTunes, as is this new CD.
The unobtrusive accompaniment of the clarsach will probably add to the appeal of the recording, but the use of any instrumental accompaniment to the chant of the office is highly controversial. Perhaps it was employed in convents where the nuns were not up to chanting the office without assistance – which is hardly the case with Canty. Not everything is accompanied – the first antiphon is, the next few are not and the clarsach does not reappear until track 7, the responsory Magni patris sunt miranda – so the performers could be said to be hedging their bets so as not to offend those musicologists who insist on unaccompanied performance. Though I tend towards the Christopher Page school of thought – the instruments on his excellent Gothic Voices recordings, slowly being reissued at budget price by Hyperion Helios, very restricted – I was not disturbed by the instrumental accompaniment here.
The singing is excellent, quite the equal of Anonymous Four on their very fine Harmonia Mundi recordings and preferable to a similar Telarc album Angeli – Music of Angels, to which I gave a guarded review some time ago (CD-80448 – see review). If the Telarc CD made excellent music for relaxation, this Canty recording does the same but with a sharper eye to authenticity. Music for relaxation may not be the prime purpose of the recording, but it will be an excellent by-product. Even if you don’t want to go beyond that, the CD should appeal, though I should remind you of another excellent recent recording of plainsong: Chant, Music for Paradise (Universal UCJ176 6016) another CD which can be appreciated at a variety of levels, including relaxation – see review.
Most of the music for Apostle of Ireland has been specially edited from two manuscripts in the library of Trinity College, Dublin, TCD79 and TCD80, transcribed by Dr Ann Buckley, whose two-page description of these sources in the booklet greatly adds to the value of the notes and to the authenticity of the recording. The Magnificat on the final track is chanted to an excellent setting, quite different from the normal tone, which adds to the attractiveness of the recording.
The lavish and informative booklet is let down only by a weird typo which turns the title of the first antiphon, Veneranda imminentis diei back to front as Veneranda entisimmin. I could have done without the photograph of Canty in their natty green tabards embellished with Celtic crosses – though of Irish descent, I don’t go much on that sort of thing – but I did like the paintings by Maria Rud, combining elements of the modern and the medieval, which embellish the front and back of the CD.
The translations, by Senan Furlong, OSB, are accurate and idiomatic, though the combination of the modern (has) and Book of Common Prayer (hath) wording is discordant at times. As a bonus additional to the excellent singing, putting all these texts together will inform you about the life of Patrick, including his famous banishment of the serpents from Ireland (Exultent filii matris eccelsie, track 8) – unfortunately, the story is mythical: there never were any snakes in post-Ice Age Ireland. You’ll also find on track 7 the supposed revelation of Purgatory to Patrick; though this was hardly an established doctrine in Patrick’s day, medieval literature abounds with accounts of sinners who repented after being granted a vision of ‘St Patrick’s Purgatory’.
With excellent recording, this CD may be strongly recommended. At whatever level you listen, you will find spiritual nourishment here – I guarantee that you won’t think the 78 minutes too long.
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