Reviewed by Steven Whitehead
Long an object of fascination, the Knights Templar left behind few documents related to the musical activities of their Order. Nevertheless, with the drive of a keen archaeologist, Marcel Pérès and his Ensemble Organum were able to reconstruct the oldest of the sources: a rare manuscript dating from the middle of the 12th century and originating at the basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the site at which the rituals of the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitaller initially took shape. What we get is very much of its time, albeit lovingly reconstructed and stirringly sung. The Templars looked to France for their liturgy and their first precentor in Jerusalem was a canon of Paris named Anselm who adapted the Latin liturgy to suit. The manuscript on which this recording is based comes from a time when musical notation was beginning to be used. Of particular interest to musicologists is the use of the tripudium for keeping time. This is more than beating time but involves a rhythmic swaying of the whole body, shifting the body's weight from one leg to the other. If this is difficult to picture, imagine these warrior-clerics marching on the spot as they chant or even, if it is not too fanciful, put them on a Rugby pitch performing a unique version of the Maori haka. If your expectation of an album of medieval chant is something wistful, taking you to be with the angels on their fluffy clouds where they gently strum their harps you have come to the wrong place because these are angels with fire in their eyes, carrying sharp swords on their way to war. As a listener I found it fascinating, even exciting in places as the music evoked pictures in my mind of an army of elvish warriors going to battle in The Lord Of The Rings. As an imaginary soundtrack it works well, as an historical reconstruction it is most interesting, but as an aid to private meditation or personal devotion I would handle with caution - and I should also point out that this is a re-issue in a new cover of an album first released in 2006 so if you are already a follower of Marcel Pérès and his doughty Ensemble Organum check before purchasing.
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