In this recent recording devoted to twelfth-century chant of the Knights Templar and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem that distinctiveness is once again wonderfully evident.
The program is devoted largely to monophonic antiphons and responsories, thrillingly spiced with frequent use of paraphony, the simultaneous replication of the melody at consonant intervals, here over a wide compass, grounded in impressive bass profundity. (One example, a Kyrie, takes on a more sophisticated approach to multi-voice singing, using more independent individual lines in the style of the Codex Calixtinus.)
The performances are rhythmicized and highly articulative. Ornamentation is frequent, sometimes subtly inflective, sometimes exuberant and effusive. And the singing is strong, rendered with direct and powerful tone. This is far removed from the ethereal aesthetic we have been conditioned to expect in chant through generations of recordings under the influence of the Benedictines at Solesmes. Like the more familiar ethereal renditions, those of Ensemble Organum will retain a sense of “otherness,” but they sing with both feet on the ground, looking toward heaven, perhaps, but not lost in the waft of celestial clouds. Bernard of Clairvaux in the twelfth century enjoined choir singers to sing “not as lazy, sleepy or bored creatures . . . nor with voices broken or weak, . . . but bringing forth with virile resonance and affection voices worthy of the Holy Spirit.” It is this virile resonance that so captures the distinctiveness of these performances, performances that stir and animate the ear and beguilingly beckon one into the sound world of the Knights Templar.