Beth Nielsen Chapman,
(BNC, 2004)

I was raised in a Catholic family and
these beautiful melodies sung mostly
in Latin were the 'hit parade' for myself
and all those born before Vatican II.

- Beth Nielsen Chapman

All of us have memories of our childhood. Some of us are lucky enough to be able to still enjoy these experiences today; others of us have only the distant and fading memories. The hymns on this appropriately titled CD Hymns by Beth Nielsen Chapman were a big part of my youth. Regrettably, they have since been consigned, for the most part, to the liturgical dustbin. Their replacements are often very beautiful, but somehow they fail to inspire any deep religious feelings in me.

Even though hymns of this type are rarely heard in churches today, I found myself singing along -- the almost forgotten Latin phrases coming back almost magically -- even though I haven't heard some of them for too many years.

Chapman's style is the epitome of simplicity. At times she is singing alone; other times there are soft voices carrying the harmony. Instruments in the background include classical guitar and mandolin played by Chapman herself. Also tucked gently in the background are a harp, cello, strings and another classical guitar. Never do the other musicians intrude on Chapman's clear and gentle voice.

The recording opens with Chapman's arrangement of Mozart's "Ave Verum Corpus." I had mild misgivings when I first opened this CD. I'm accustomed to hearing this type of music sung by a full choir and organ and I fully expected an entire CD of a solo voice to fall flat. It doesn't. "Ave Verum Corpus" dispelled all doubts. Her treatment of this hymn, as all the others, shows her deep sense of reverence. The recording closes with a serene and soothing rendition of Schubert's "Ave Maria."

Other hymns on the recording include the ancient Advent chant "Veni, Veni Emmanuel," the traditional evening benediction melodies "Tantum Ergo" and "O Salutaris Hostia." St. Thomas Aquinas wrote the texts for these latter two liturgical masterpieces in the 13th century. Chapman's up-to-date treatment of these old Latin melodies is a real treat; nothing is lost in the transition from ancient times to the 21st century.

A personal favorite is "Panis Angelicus." Over the years, many famous singers and choirs have performed this hymn. The text for this hymn was also written by Aquinas, and Cesar Franck put the words to music in 1872. Wow! St. Thomas Aquinas, Mozart, Schubert and Franck! Who knew at the time we Catholic kids were getting a classical education while attending church?

One of the hymns sung in English is "Hymn to Mary," which Chapman wrote while undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. "Oh God of Loveliness" is the other hymn sung in English.

"Dona Nobis Pacem (Give Us Peace)" is a perfect fit for Chapman's singing style and interpretation. Listening to her sing this prayer for peace infuses the listener with a sense of peace and serenity as the stresses of daily life seem to melt away. This should be required daily listening for every world leader and politician.

The remaining three hymns performed by Chapman are "Adoramus Te," "O Sanctissima" and "Salve Regina."

The beloved hymns themselves are the real stars of this recording. Chapman pays tribute to these masterpieces with her simple and soothing style; she does not try to steal the spotlight for herself. This album is both awe-inspiring and overpowering.

Regardless of your religious beliefs, listening to this music will help you understand the meaning of spirituality and the very important part that music plays in it. This CD will make a perfect Christmas gift, especially for Catholics born before Vatican II. It's a very inexpensive way to revisit one's spiritual life from days long gone by.

by Bill Knapp
21 October 2006

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