Dennis Keene, conductor

A follow-up to the best-selling “Beyond Chant,” (DE 3165) this program of visionary music takes the listener on an other-worldly journey from Chant to Renaissance. Beginning with a mesmerizing solo soprano chant of Hildegard von Bingen, this new program weaves both solo and group chants through medieval and Renaissance masterpieces. The flow back and forth enables the listener to feel the spellbinding continuity in all of this music, which has its strong roots in Chant. Dennis Keene and the Voices of Ascension were one of last year’s success stories with their release of “Beyond Chant.” Not only did the album make headlines, it was included in a number of best sellers lists including Billboard’s classical chart. (Debuting at #10)

Commentary about Dennis Keene and The Voices of Ascension:

“Probably the finest professional chorus I have ever conducted” – Margaret Hillis

“Dennis Keene is the finest young conducting talent in the choral world today.” – Gregg Smith

“Sheer musical excellence… Mr. Keene drew an intensity from his singers that effectively tapped into both the meditative and ecstatic currents of the music.” – The New York Times

Robert Cummings, Chant, if you’ve been asleep lately, is quite popular these days. One recent recording simply entitled Chant on Angel, a compilation from four previous recordings, became a mega chart buster and started a trend that must have prompted certain record execs to scratch their balding heards in surprise (or, if they were women, to fuss with their split ends in astonishment). Now, of course, practically every label’s getting into the act with recordings of chant and its close neighbor, religious choral music from the Medieval and Renaissance periods. This is the third entry in this competitive field by the talented forces of Dennis Keene and Voices of Ascension on Delos. Some people, of course, buy this kind of music because it is soothing, meditative, something they even doze off to. If that’s your bag, I won’t gainsay your listening nabits, but be aware there’s substantive music on this disc, not mantra-laden stuff packaged to fit some PR man’s idea of new-age music in Renaissance robes. For example, you get two pristinely beautiful hymns (or Sequences) by the mystic nun (Saint) Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179). And, again, if you been asleep lately (perhaps snoozing to the peaceful sounds of chanting Monks), Hildegard, also a poet, writer, scientist, diplomat and visionary whom nobles and popes consulted, has developed a rather large and devoted following in the past decade-and-a-half. Some of her admirers call her a feminist, but grudgingly conceded her feminism was hardly in step with that of today – who among the Steinems and Smeals worship fervently in a male-dominated religion, much less write hymns extolling the Blessed Virgin? But the disc, as you can glean from the fat headnote, contains considerably more than just by Hildegard. There are four motets by Palestrina, perhaps the leading composer of late Renaissance church music. There are also significant works by Dufay, Issac and Josquin. And, of course, you get a healthy quota of chant here: Gregorian Chant. The singers, under the knowing guidance of Dennis Keene, deliver performances of authenticity and commitment. Especially notable is the singing of Kathy Thiel in the Hildegard pieces. The notes, written by Keene, are excellent, as are the sonics. Each of the 24 selections is given a separate track. In sum, whether you soothe yourself into slumber with, or listen seriously to, this genre of music, this release will reward you richly.

1. Hildegard of Bingen: O virga ac diadema Kathy Theil, soprano
2. Palestrina: Sitivit anima mea
3. Byrd: Justorum animae
4. Isaac: Sanctus (from Missa Prolationem)
5. Josquin Desprez: Ave Christe
6. Dufay: Alma Redemptoris Mater Alexandra Montano / Neil Farrell / Jeffrey Johnson (and Thom Baker)
7. Byrd: Rejoice, rejoice
8. Gregorian Chant: Kyrie eleison (from Missa ‘cum jubilo’)
9. Palestrina: Surge illuminare
10. Gregorian Chant: Sanctus (from Missa ‘cum jubilo’)
11. Tallis: In ieiunio et fletu
12. Palestrina: Hodie Christus Natus Est
13. Byrd: Sing Joyfully
14. Farrant: Lord, for thy tender mercy’s sake
15. Hildegard of Bingen: Ave, generosa Kathy Theil, soprano
16. Byrd: Miserere mei, Deus
17. Anonymous: Rejoice in the Lord alway
18. Gregorian Chant: Ave Verum Corpus Susanne Peck, soprano
19. Gregorian Chant: Agnus Dei (from Missa ‘cum jubilo’)
20. Lotti: Crucifixus
21. Ingegneri: Tenebrae factae sunt
22. Palestrina: Ascendo ad Patrem
23. Weelkes: Hosanna to the Son of David
24. Weelkes: Alleluia, I heard a voice Peter Stewart, baritone