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Ohne ihre Musik wären die Kirchen vermutlich schon lange tot und leer. Es waren die weiten melodischen Bögen der Gregorianik, die vielstimmig-schwebenden Motetten der Renaissance, die ergreifende Chor- und Orgelmusik eines Bach, Mozart, Brahms oder Messiaen, welche die großen, halligen Gotteshäuser mit Leben und Andacht füllten. Das ist wirklich ein „großes Mysterium“. Keine andere Religion hat derart vielfältige und unterschiedliche Musik hervorgebracht. Hier hören wir Geistliche Chormusik der Renaissance von Palestrina, Tallis, Lobo, Cardioso u.a.

the project

Classical music is hot. In fact, it is probably the biggest story of the l990s in the recording industry. Classical crossover hits like Nigel Kennedy's recording of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons, Henryk Gorecki's Symphony no. 3, the Gregorian Chant album by the monks of Silo, and Michael Nyman's score for the Jane Campion film The Piano—to name just a few—have broken out of classical music's traditional bounds and hit the pop charts. Suddenly, a classical recording that sells 10,000 units is no longer pushing the envelope; today's top classical releases are reaching sales heights formerly reserved for pop icons like Madonna and the Rolling Stones.

This stunning turnaround in classical music's marketing power did not come out of nowhere, though. Celestial Harmonies helped set the stage for it with its Adagio (Complete Edition) (19908) series. Since 1981, long before the current interest in classical music began, Celestial Harmonies' compilations have been used worldwide for relaxation, meditation and even music therapy. And in a stunning reversal of music industry rules, absolutely no advertising or promotion was needed to achieve substantial sales figures. And while the rest of the classical world scurries around looking for the next big hit, Celestial Harmonies has released an updated digital version of an already proven winner: The Adagio series, a total of seven double–CDs. With sales of over 300,000 units in the past decade, the reason for the series' success is no mystery. As modern life has become increasingly complex and stressful, listeners have turned to music as a source of relief—especially the timeless, contemplative sounds of classical music. It seems that as the pace of our lives gets progressively faster, the music that many listeners are seeking is increasingly slow. The Adagio series, presents over seventeen hours of the world's finest slow music, making it the largest such collection anywhere.

the music

One thing is clear from the astounding success of The Three Tenors, the Spanish monks, the Bulgarian Women's Choir, and other crossover phenomena: despite the conventional wisdom in the classical radio and recording industries that vocal music is not as popular as instrumental works, it is the vocal albums that listeners repond to more anything else. Magnum Mysterium I and Magnum Mysterium II (14062) present a survey of five centuries of the glorious sound of massed human voices.

Magnum Mysterium I focuses specifically on the sacred choral music of the fifteenth to seventeeth centuries. The music of Pierre de la Rue and Giovanni Palestrina is as beautiful and resonant today as it was nearly 500 years ago. Respected figures like Thomas Tallis, Carlo Gesualdo, and William Byrd are joined by currently overlooked Iberian masters Manuel Cardoso and Duarte Lobo. The CDs' liner notes add to the musical interest: the exalting sounds of Byrd's Infelix Ego take on new layers of significance when you read that he was a known Catholic in the fiercely Protestant court of Elizabeth I, but that a blind eye was turned towards him and his family because his music was considered so sublime.

Magnum Mysterium II also draws on the rich liturgical music heritage of both Catholic and Protestant rites. Four hundred years of sacred contemplative music are represented here, from the spectacular choral polyphony of sixteenth century Englishman Thomas Tallis to the heartfelt Psalm settings of his twentieth century countryman, Herbert Howells. Magnum Mysterium II also includes some brilliant yet reflective organ interludes by Bach, Mozart, Langlais, and others.

The sacred music included here reflects the long historic ties between classical music and Western Christianity. Most Italian and Spanish composers set the Latin texts of the Catholic liturgy; this included composers like Vivaldi and Verdi, who are more generally thought of as instrumental or operatic composers, respectively. But Vivaldi's Gloria and Verdi's Stabat Mater, both included here, are glowing choral works that show how strongly these composers felt about their ancient texts. Bach was a figure of great importance to the Lutheran services in his native Germany. In addition to his sacred cantatas, Bach's position in the church allowed him to display his musical genius in his organ contemplations, which were often improvised and only later written down. Two of these fantasies and fugues are included in Magnum Mysterium II. Another great master, Johannes Brahms, drew on Lutheran texts for his A German Requiem, which is also excerpted here.

There are some musical surprises as well: a setting of the seventh century text Vexilla Regis by legendary pianist/composer Franz Liszt, for example; or an example of early liturgical music for the young Anglican Church by Thomas Tallis. And there are also some familiar masterworks: the Sanctus from Bach's glorious Mass in B Minor, for example; and the timeless beauty of In Paradisum from the Fauré Requiem.

the musicians

These compilations were put together by Celestial Harmonies' President, Eckart Rahn, and Sister Marie Therese Levey, RSJ, of Australia. Magnum Mysterium I and Magnum Mysterium II feature the rich, pure sounds of the Oxford Camerata of England, directed by Jeremy Summerly. Two other highly-regarded choirs, the Sine Nomine Singers and the Schola Cantorum of Oxford also perform, and such respected ensembles as the Capella Istropolitana, the English Northern Chamber Orchestra, and the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra provide instrumental support. Renowned organists Wolfgang Rübsam, Joseph Payne, and Janus Sebestyen each contribute instrumental interludes in the second volume.

tracklist

  Disk 1:  
1 Lectio I: Lamentationis Jeremiae for Holy Saturday by Pierre de la Rue 9'21"
2 Lamentation for Maundy Thursday by Thomas Tallis 8'19"
3 Lamentation for Maundy Thursday by Orlando di Lasso 5'51"
4 Lamentation for Good Friday by Estévão de Brito 6'18"
5 Kyrie from Missa Papae Marcelli by Giovanni Pierluigi Palestrina 4'36"
6 Gloria from Missa Papae Marcelli by Giovanni Pierluigi Palestrina 5'38"
7 Credo from Missa Papae Marcelli by Giovanni Pierluigi Palestrina 8'33"
8 Sanctus from Missa Papae Marcelli by Giovanni Pierluigi Palestrina 8'56"
9 Agnus Dei from Missa Papae Marcelli by Giovanni Pierluigi Palestrina 7'51"
10 Motet O Magnum Mysterium by Thomás Luis de Victoria 4'11"
11 Motet Sancte Spiritus Domine by Don Carlo Gesualdo 2'01"
  Total Time: 72'05"
  Disk 2:  
1 Motet Infelix Ego by William Byrd 13'41"
2 Motet Versa est. by Alonso Lobo 5'08"
3 Introit from Requiem Mass by Duarte Lobo 5'49"
4 Kyrie from Requiem Mass by Duarte Lobo 1'48"
5 Gradual from Requiem Mass by Duarte Lobo 3'34"
6 Offertory from Requiem Mass by Duarte Lobo 4'00"
7 Sanctus from Requiem Mass by Duarte Lobo 2'38"
8 Agnus Dei from Requiem Mass by Duarte Lobo 2'24"
9 Communion from Requiem Mass by Duarte Lobo 2'44"
10 Introit from Requiem Mass by Manuel Cardoso 6'26"
11 Kyrie from Requiem Mass by Manuel Cardoso 2'02"
12 Gradual from Requiem Mass by Manuel Cardoso 4'50"
13 Offertory from Requiem Mass by Manuel Cardoso 5'34"
14 Sanctus from Requiem Mass by Manuel Cardoso 3'00"
15 Agnus Dei from Requiem Mass by Manuel Cardoso 2'36"
16 Communion from Requiem Mass by Manuel Cardoso 3'48"
17 Motet In Manus Tuas by Thomas Tallis 2'33"
  Total Time: 73'00"

the series

Adagio I: A Special 2 ½ Hour Collection of Orchestral Classics (14050)
Adagio II: A Special 2 ½ Hour Collection of Orchestral Classics (14052)
Andante: A Special 2 ½ Hour Collection of Chamber Music Classics (14054)
Largo I: A Special 2 ½ Hour Collection of Piano Classics (14056)
Largo II: A Special 2 ½ Hour Collection of Piano Classics (14058)
Magnum Mysterium I: A Special 2 ½ Hour Collection of Sacred Music Classics (14060)
Magnum Mysterium II: A Special 2 ½ Hour Collection of Sacred Music Classics (14062)