Performers: Adolphe Attia (tenor), Michel Scherb (baritone), Emile Kacmann (bass), Choirs directed by Maurice Benhamou, Martine Geliot (celtic harp), Raymond Couste (lute), Gerard Perrotin (percussion), Pierre Pollin (trumpet), Suzanne Haik Vantoura (instrumental realization)
The present recording is based upon the work of Suzanne Haik Vantoura to decode the monophonic notation which accompanies the Hebrew Old Testament. It has been accepted fairly broadly, although not by everyone, and gives melodies for the entire body of verses. A very small selection is performed here.
The age of the notation is one topic under dispute. The oldest manuscripts actually date only to c.900, although the music itself is said to date to the era of King David. It is conjectured that it was recopied from older sources, and there is some discussion of the notation in written sources which might indicate this possibility. Biblical scholarship is, of course, a highly charged and controversial field.
The accompaniment is more modern in conception, based on some descriptions of instrumental ensembles in the reign of King David. I find it rather dubious, but not without artistic merit. The diction in the melodies also strikes me as distinctly modern, although the idea of metrical accent is contained in the notation, as far as that goes. While the melodic movement itself may very well accurately reflect the original psalms, the overall production certainly contains many other elements especially in the accompaniment and resulting harmonies.
All Music Guide
This is a "Musique d'Abord" reissue of a highly unusual recording originally issued in 1976. Putting aside completely the Jewish cantorial tradition and its assumptions of how Biblical texts should be rendered, organist, composer, and musicologist Suzanne Haik Vantoura sought to decipher the musical notations (or te'amim, in Hebrew) marked in Masoretic sources. In addition to making this recording to support her research, Vantoura published a book of her findings (revised in 1991 and published in English as The Music of the Bible Revealed, by D & F Scott, for those interested in learning more about her work). The low-key accompanying by celtic harp, lute, percussion, and trumpet is suggested, says Vantoura, by Biblical references to these (or at least similar) instruments.
While her interpretations of the te'amim certainly are interesting (if still quite controversial), her treatise doesn't make for the most compelling listening experience. Overall, the recording feels much more like a dry demonstration of a doctoral thesis than a living, breathing work of art. The vocal soloists-tenor Adolphe Attia, baritone Michel Scherb, and bass Emile Kacmann, supplanted by an unnamed chorus led by Maurice Benhamou-are fairly one-dimensional. (The lack of texts in the booklet doesn't help clarify what we're listening to, either.)
As with Harmonia Mundi's "Music of Ancient Greece", reissued at the same time as this release, it would have been interesting to solicit Vantoura's thoughts on this recording 24 years after its first appearance. Certainly, the hyperbolic claims that her rendition reproduces the original intent with "irrefutable verification" and "pure authenticity" are ripe for review, considering the evolution in historically informed performance practice during the past 20 years (as well as any possible developments in Biblical scholarship). The original recording is quite cloudy, and I'm disappointed by the presence of occasional hiss in the transfers.