Recorded in Washington: Review of ‘In Medio Ecclesiae’

Image courtesy Dominican House of Studies Schola.
Image courtesy Dominican House of Studies Schola.

COLLEGE PARK, May 16, 2014 – There is simply no substitute for authenticity. Where sacred vocal music is concerned, the truth of this maxim is amplified significantly.

As polished as certain professional performances of the sacred masterworks may be, these recordings are often eclipsed by groups that may be short on professional accolades, but long on faith. This would explain, for example, the surprising popular of the Gregorian chant recordings of the Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos in the 1990s, as well as 2013’s “Mater Eucharistiae,” released on Decca records by the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.

Now the Dominican House of Studies Schola in Washington, D.C. has entered the liturgical music fray with a powerful and deeply moving debut recording entitled “In Medio Ecclesiae.” (“In the Midst of the Church” in English.)

Led by Fr. James Moore—an accomplished musician and doctoral candidate at the Catholic University of America — the Schola is comprised of the residents of D.C.’s Dominican House of Studies, and includes the voices of priests, brothers, and seminarians.

In short order, the skilled and charismatic Fr. Moore has succeeded in transforming the Schola into a powerful ensemble that is gaining increased and much-deserved attention in the music world.

Dominican HoS Schola CD case.
Dominican HoS Schola CD case.

Recorded inside in the District’s historic St. Dominic’s Church, the resulting CD — the inaugural release from Dominicana Records — is a moody and contemplative disk that includes a varied but well-balanced program of music ranging from ancient plainsong to more recent polyphonic works.

For example, the opening “Cantate Domino” (“Sing to the Lord”) reveals the group in high form, singing music capable equally of gracing a concert hall or a Dominican Liturgy, while “O sacrum convivium” (“O Sacred Banquet”) shines with a glowing sense of devotion.

Further highlights on this recording include “Ubi Caritas” (“Where true love is,” an antiphon for Holy Thursday) and “To You Do We Come.” The vocal ensemble’s mournful and haunting performance of “O vos omnes” (“ O All You [Who Walk]”) — a responsory from Passiontide — is particularly effective, while the hymn “Round Us Falls the Night” brings the collection to a peaceful and joyous conclusion.

Throughout this recording, the dedicated members of the Dominican House of Studies Schola give us an intimate and glorious glimpse into both their shared religious vocation and their rich musical life.

The dark, burnished ambiance that is an integral part of St. Dominic’s interior space is an added plus, contributing its uniquely reverent atmosphere to this gem of a recording. After experiencing it, one can only hope for further such efforts from the Dominicans.

In our disintegrating contemporary culture, which is all too ready to accept a sub-par aesthetic status quo, the Dominican House of Studies Schola and its current recording amply demonstrate both the musical quality and sheer beauty that can be achieved with a due mix of passion, reverence, and effort.

In the final analysis, this is a must-have gem of a recording for choral and sacred music enthusiast who wishes to add to his or her collection. An added plus: proceeds from the sale of the recording, according to the Dominicans’ website, will “contribute to the educational and other needs of the Dominican students.

You may sample, read about, and purchase the album in either CD or mp3 format at the website via this link.

Rating: *** (3 out of 4 stars)

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