The 22 singing nuns who make up the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of the Apostles choir probably have little in common with Justin, Shakira, and Miley, except that all of their albums have wafted to the top of the Billboard bestseller charts in recent weeks. For the sisters, the chart in question is for “Traditional Classical Music,” where in early March their newest release, Lent at Ephesus, occupied spot No. 1, with their Angels and Saints at Ephesus at its heels in second place. The community was founded in Pennsylvania in 1995 and in 2006 moved to the Priory of Our Lady of Ephesus (hence the album’s title) in northwest Missouri. This both is and isn’t a professional choir: it is to the extent that its members’ vocation involves gathering to sing praise many times each day, but in terms of musical practice, the group’s remarkable accomplishments derive more from spiritual sincerity than from fully “professional” choral technique. They produce their gentle sound mostly in half-whispered mezza voce. Several Latin chants interspersed among the 23 tracks are the most captivating portions of this latest CD. Their polyphonic hymns and anthems are also pretty, but a sameness of tempo (slow), pitch level (moderate), and volume (restrained) end up yielding a beautifully recorded 80 minutes with a payback that is more meditational than strictly musical.
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