Monday 6 March 2017

CD Review: 1: Mass and Vespers of the Assumption from Fontgombault

One of the discs I received over Christmas was this recording by the monks of Fontgombault. I`m glad to say that I`ve been there once when I went for a retreat with a group of English priests in the 1990`s. This disc is a re-issue of recordings originally issued in 1973 with five pieces added from the 1990`s which include the opening and closing organ pieces.

I`m no expert on chant. I have been to a number of `chant for beginners` days which only left me more confused and increased my admiration for those who can sing it. Being used to a five line stave I never really understood why it`s easier to sing chant from a four line stave but I`ve no doubt it is. The last introduction I went to said it was simply a matter of remembering the tonic sol-fa but that didn`t help very much either. 

The Fongombault monks sing with a meditative mellifluous style. All the chant both the propers and ordinary are accompanied by the organ. I like this as it gives warmth but I have had differences of opinion with  others who believe chant should be sung unaccompanied. However for me the discreet organ accompaniment is a plus. The highlight of the Mass for me was the gradual Audi Filia. I love hearing the full setting of the gradual at Mass and value the opportunity for reflection between the epistle and the Gospel but I have met people who don`t think it`s suitable in a parish setting. I`m not sure why. The soaring notes of this gradual moved me. 

There is a technical problem in that although the track listings on the cover are in the right order something has gone wrong with the disc so that the gradual is followed by the Creed and then comes the Alleluia verse. Strangely there is no recording of the offertory antiphon. I know it`s not in the missal for the Ordinary Form although I understand it is in the new chant books but I thought it would be here given that the conventual Mass at Fontgombault is not Novus Ordo but  a 1965/67.

Second Vespers begins with track 11. Here again the running order gets confused as the second psalm (Laudate pueri) precedes the first (Dixit Dominus) on the disc. Similarly after the Magnificat the track listing gives 21 Salve Regina, 22 Organ recessional and 23 Angelus bells (followed by general bell-ringing) but on the disc the bells come immediately after the Magnificat after which there is the Salve Regina and closing organ music.

I`ve listened to the disc twice now and am very pleased to have a reminder of Fongombault and hope one day to visit again.


  1. I too visited Fontgombault a few years ago & stayed for 3 days. The setting is magnificent & the welcome from the monks unsurpassed - well worth a visit. Another Benedictine abbey in France is St Joseph de Clairval near Dijon. The monks here also give retreats for laymen both in France & England They publish a monthly (free) newsletter which I find most helpful. At Clairval most of the fathers celebrate the EF Mass & their singing is amazing. Should anyone wish to receive the newsletter please contact me at giving me your full address.
    Just as an additional fact; the food & wine at Clairval surpass those at Fontgombault!!

  2. The food at Fontgombault was certainly austere. We seemed to be there during a carrotfest.

  3. I much prefer singing chant with organ accompaniment. It has the undoubted advantage of helping the less experienced.

    We always had organ accompaniment at Ushaw in the glory days of Fr Laurence Hollis.

  4. I very much agree with the sentiments expressed by Felix Mendelssohn when he said:
    "Gregorian chant is the best church music that can be written. I cannot understand how Catholics, with such beautiful music at hand, can tolerate at Mass compositions which are not even passably suitable, but outright distracting,"

    I wonder what he would have made of such 'compositions' as 'Who put the colours in the rainbow' or 'Rise and shine'.
    Rise and shine is a ditty about Noah and the flood and has such uplifting lines as -
    There's gonna be a floody, floody,
    So he built him an arky, arky,
    They came on by twosies, twosies,
    Elephants and kangaroosies, roosies,
    If you get to heaven before I do-sies, do-sies,
    Tell those angels I'm coming too-sies, too-sies.
    .....and on it goes.

    Mendelssohn died in 1847 but I wonder what he would have made of todays musical 'compositions'.

  5. "Zip bam boo, zamalama la boo,

    This Jesus was a working man
    Who shouted "Yes" to life,
    He didn't choose to settle down,
    Or take himself a wife.
    To live for God he made his task,
    "Who is this man?" the people ask.
    Zip ban boo, zama lama la boo,
    There's freedom in Jesus Christ.

    Hymn no. 858, Liturgical Hymns Old and New.

    BUT, my very own favourite, Hymn No 800

    "If I were a wiggly worm,
    I'd thank you lord that I could squirm,
    And if I were a billy goat'
    I'd thank you Lord for my strong throat,
    And if I were a fuzzy wuzzy bear,
    I'd thank you Lord for my fuzzy wuzzy hair"

    Mr Darroch will be telling us next that "Colours of Day" is not the greatest piece of theological writing - putting such light weights as that Aquinas guy firmly in the shade.

    Time to get down with the kids, Mr Darroch, and groovie - groovie, man!

  6. I was at Fontgombault for the Rogation days in 1997. When the dish of runner beans came round for a second time, I passed, thinking I should leave some space for the main course. That was the main course. the chant made up for it though.

  7. I sing both from the standard 5 line stave and from neumes. If I'm looking at a piece new to me the conventional staves are easier to pick out on a piano, but once I have the pitch sorted then I find it easier to follow the neumes. There's a setting of the Missa de Angelis in the hymn book 'Celebration for Everyone' in conventional notation that I find almost impossible to sing from even when I know the piece!


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