CAROLING AT EPHESUS
Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles
On this, their ninth album in toto and third devoted to Christmas music, the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, offer a more than worthy followup to the Order’s Deep Roots 2015 Album of the Year, Easter at Ephesus. Produced by the sisters themselves in-house at the abbey they call home in Missouri, Caroling at Ephesus follows the template of their 2008 Yule classic, Christmas at Ephesus. That is to say the repertoire ranges from the Renaissance to the 19th Century, comes from all over the globe and includes well-known sacred seasonal fare and lesser known but equally compelling selections (such as the 16th Century Spanish folk carol “Verbum Caro Factum Est,” a riveting 1:23 of joyous polyphony rendered in Spanish [the liner booklet includes translations])—inclusiveness is no stranger to the good Sisters. The 24 selections clock in at slightly more than 57 minutes.
‘Coventry Carol,’ Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, from Caroling at Ephesus
‘Verbum Caro Factum Est,’ Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, from Caroling at Ephesus
The Sisters report this album as being done “just for fun,” and you can hear the joy in their pure, beautiful voices, whether in unison or individually, in the bright reading of “Good King Wenceslaus” (including a surprise in the youthful voice singing the part of the page, which turns out to belong to the order’s smallest novice); in the ebullient presentation, complete with an undercurrent drone of voices, of “I Saw Three Ships”; in the nuance and subtle drama of the modern sounding “Past Three O’Clock,” a song traced back to 17th Century London, where it was “an ornamented Christmas call…by the ‘waifs’ of that city.”
‘Past Three O’ Clock,’ Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, from Caroling at Ephesus
‘Quem Pastores,’ Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, from Caroling at Ephesus
But there is nothing quite like, or more soul stirring, than the Sisters in their most reverent mode, when their devotion to a life of prayer for priests infuses the sacred verses of holy songs. On the familiar side, these would include the haunting “Coventry Carol”; the solemn, wonder-filled “What Child is This”; the tender, awestruck “O Holy Night”; the triumphant album closer, “O Come All Ye Faithful,” complete with a mesmerizing soprano voice rising up out of the ensemble to send the spirit soaring, as well as, if you listen close, the voice of 92-year-old Sister Wilhemina. Tender, worshipful moments abound in such fare as “What Tydynges,” from a 15th Century Selden manuscript of Oxford; “Personent Hodie,” a rhythmicized chant of the type that paved the way for polyphony, drawn from a 12th Century Latin hymn to St. Nicholas; and “Quem Pastores,” a soothing depiction of the night of Christ’s birth dating back to 16th Century German with Latin lyrics from a 13th Century hymn.
In the end the most incisive review of Caroling at Ephesus is found in the final verse of “Personent Hodie,” to wit: Let all the little clerics together with choirboys/Sing like angels: ‘You have come to the world./I pour out praise to you. Therefore/glory to God in the highest!’
Based in Gower, Missouri, Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles is a Roman Catholic order of monastic nuns dedicated to the rules of St. Benedict, “ora et labora,” or, “pray and work.” All proceeds from the sale of Caroling at Ephesus and the nuns’ eight other albums help pay off the abbey’s debt and expand the monastery grounds. In order to start building a new church this coming spring, the order is in urgent need of gifts in the range of $10,000 to $100,000. Buying from the Order’s website insures the abbey receiving more money from the sale. Go to www.benedictinesofmary.org for more information and to purchase music directly from the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles.