Every concert review could begin with the words,"This type of music might not be to everyone's liking." Taste in music is highly personal. My wife Cathey considers anything composed after Bach to be jazz. On my desert island, I'll be listening to the fragile voices of Joni Mitchell and Neil Young as well as Grace Slick in her full-throated glory. But in this case, it must be said. An hour and a half of Gregorian chants might not be to everyone's liking.
Now that that's out of the way, the traditional Easter Sunday concert by the Choeur Grégorien de Paris (Gregorian Choir of Paris) demonstrated both the appeal of that particular form of worshipful music and the amazing acoustic properties of the Abbaye de Fontfroide.
Let's start with the Abbey itself. Set in the midst of wine country west of Narbonne, a visit to Fontfroide makes a great day trip. The grounds are immaculate, the buildings well preserved and with fascinating histories. Just a couple of pictures prove my point.
The main chapel is typical of the region and the period. And it seems to have been constructed for the express purpose of making the listening to sacred music a pleasurable experience. (Avery Fisher Hall, take note!) The Choir was constantly on the move, breaking into groups and reforming, singing in solo and duet and trio and quartet and you-name-it configurations from points throughout the chapel. And from every direction, regardless of the number of singers, the acoustics were crystal clear. Just a delight to the ear.
As for the music itself, it was presented with the controlled passion required. Restrained yet powerful.
Two highlights of 90 minutes of nonstop performance...
At one point, two groups of men and two of women took up station in four corners of the chapel. They started with a sort of call and response, one group starting only after the echoes of the previous group had faded. Slowly, the call and response became a sort of rondo, with one group chiming in just before the previous group had completed their phrase. The piece accelerated until the four parts were being sung simultaneously. Dramatic and exhilarating.
The finish was an Alleluia chorus as in the video above. The Chorus moved from the altar down the center aisle to the back of the chapel and the audience was invited to participate. Chilling.
This annual Easter event is well worth attending. And if once was enough for those of us for whom sacred music is not a sacred pleasure, once was necessary to appreciate the beauty of the genre. And beautiful it was.