HE ROMAN CATHOLIC treasury of sacred music is vast and inexhaustible. One can spend an entire lifetime exploring its depths. Compounding this expansive “treasure of inestimable value,” (§112 Sacrosanctum Concilium) composers are called by Vatican II to “increase its store of treasures.” (§121 ibid.)
The new CD release from the The Boys of Saint Paul’s Choir School under the direction of choirmaster, organist, and composer James Kennerley accomplished both in their recording: Gabriel Fauré Requeim and other Masterworks. Released by the Sophia Music Group/De Montfort Music, the CD was produced by Grammy award winning producer Brad Michel.
This album marks the third of such commercially produced albums with De Montfort Music, including the 2014 Christmas in Harvard Square which reached #1 on Billboard’s the Traditional Classical charts under the direction of John Robinson.
(To buy the Compact Disc from Saint Paul’s directly, you will also be supporting the great work of the school.)
A Living Tradition
RECORDED IN THE LATE SUMMER of 2022 in an unair-conditioned church, but in the opulent acoustic of Saint Paul’s Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the boys along with the Men of the Choir of Saint Paul’s Harvard Square were joined on the Fauré Requiem by members of the Boston Sinfonietta. With an ensemble smaller even than Rutter’s edition of the chamber orchestra version, it is remarkably effective and a model performance for smaller instrumental forces. Organist Owen Reid beautifully supplies the foundational accompaniment along with virtuosic performances from members of the Boston Sinfonietta.
In addition to works by Fauré and Kennerley, the album also features Gregorian chant, including the lesser heard Mode I solemn tone of Salve Regina. Notably, this is from a choir that does not treat such music as an exercise in history, but as a living tradition singing chant five to six days a week at Mass and Vespers. For example, they sing the Introit and Communio chants at Mass at each Sunday’s liturgy at a minimum; Gregorian Chant is intrinsic to their daily musical and prayer life.
New Works for the Church’s Treasury of Sacred Music
KENNERLEY’S Missa Sanctae Mariae Virginae is a sublime new addition to the Church’s treasury of sacred music. The hauntingly beautiful Agnus Dei alone is worth the purchase. Composed for eight voices, the Mass takes one through a range of emotions, but always leading ultimately to joy and celebration. Of this Mass, Kennerley states:
“The Mass is composed in a vain that is influenced by the great parody Masses of Renaissance masters Palestrina, Lassus, and others. Nods are also made to the twentieth century, and particularly to the music of Herbert Howells and the Anglican tradition, and also to Jean Langlais, Olivier Messiaen, and similar French musical trends. It features a wide range of moods, from scintillating and exotic harmonies to thrilling rhythmic passages.”
Composed while Choirmaster at The Church of Saint Mary the Virgin in Manhattan (affectionately known as “Smokey Mary’s”), the piece was conceived with boys’ voices in mind. Since its inception, the work underwent some revisions plus the addition of the Kyrie for the Roman Rite.
The end result is a Mass that shines the light on the boys’ voices perhaps more than any of the other works on this album. The boys’ voices are virtuosic, nimble, and powerful as are the extraordinary group of men’s voices.
LIKEWISE, IN KENNERLEY’S O sacrum convivium, composed for two treble voices, the boys sound is expressive, lyric, and alive. His painting of Thomas Aquinas’ text gives voice to the Real Presence of the Eucharist, most fitting now during the USCCB’s National Eucharistic Revival.
Among living composers of sacred music, James Kennerley has his own distinctive voice and must be in the conversation among contemporary Roman Catholic composers such as Frank LaRocca, James MacMillan, Kevin Allen, and others. All are exceedingly different; all are influential voices in contemporary classical and Roman Catholic sacred works.
Training and Education During the Pandemic
All of the work of the Choir School, and this album is remarkable given that these boys were trained during the pandemic. This was no small task. Singing and education at the Saint Paul’s Choir School did not stop in the Fall of 2020. In September of 2020, they resumed academic classes five days per week and singing at Mass a minimum of five days per week under many safety constrictions. Kennerley retained musical standards producing a refined and joyful sound under circumstances his predecessors were not subject to. Recruitment and development continued through 2020 and 2021. The efforts and accomplishments of the boys are all the more noteworthy. It is as though nothing can defeat these boys, nor their teachers.
Why a Catholic choir school education?
A closer look at the education of a choir school, the boys and Kennerley recently appeared with Bishop Robert P. Reed on The Catholic TV Network.
On the founding of the Saint Paul’s Choir School, in 1963 by Theodore Marier, Kennerley states: “1963 was not an easy time to set up something like a boys choir.” Kennerley points out Theodore Marier indicated there was a mission and calling from the Holy Father to establish choirs such as Saint Paul’s. Kennerley references Sacrosanctum Concilium (§114) where “Choirs must be diligently promoted” and also “Composers and singers, especially boys, must also be given a genuine liturgical training.”
“That extraordinary conviction that he (Marier) had…that’s what I channel and try to continue to this day…,” says Kennerley.
Speaking powerfully to the value of a musical or choir school education, James Kennerley speaks from his own boyhood experiences:
“Having been through a choir school myself in the U. K. I can tell you that it is simply the best for your character, for your soul, for your sense of spirituality, and community.”
Soli Deo gloria
- Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924): Requiem: i. Introït-Kyrie
- Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924): Requiem: ii. Offertoire
- Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924): Requiem: iii. Sanctus
- Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924): Requiem: iv. Pie Jesu
- Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924): Requiem: v. Agnus Dei-Lux Aeterna
- Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924): Requiem: vi. Libera me, Domine
- Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924): Requiem: vii. In Paradisum
- James Kennerley (b.1984): O Salutaris hostia
- Plainchant: Salve Regina (solemn tone)
- James Kennerley (b.1984): Missa Sanctae Mariae Virginae: Kyrie eleison
- James Kennerley (b.1984): Missa Sanctae Mariae Virginae: Gloria in excelsis
- James Kennerley (b.1984): Missa Sanctae Mariae Virginae: Sanctus-Benedictus
- James Kennerley (b.1984): Missa Sanctae Mariae Virginae: Agnus Dei
- Plainchant: Ave Maris Stella
- James Kennerley (b.1984): O sacrum convivium
- Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924): Cantique de Jean Racine