The Schola Hungarica is a choir devoted to research into unusual medieval repertories, particularly those of plainchant. But they aren't purely an academic group; they feature women along with boys on treble lines, which is somewhat ahistorical (only somewhat, for the presence of boy singers in medieval rites is well attested to) but gives a pleasantly bright sound. It's especially well suited to this recording of Ambrosian chant, which is the chant repertory of the city of Milan. It's so called because St. Ambrose was the Bishop of Milan in the fourth century C.E.; and the body of chant that developed there has traditionally been traced back to Ambrose, just as Gregorian chant is supposed to have been divinely inspired and set down by Pope Gregory. Ambrosian chant still exists today, despite the efforts of a number of Popes to stamp it out. This album gives an attractive sample of it, both at the small-scale and macro levels. The choir's sound at the musical surface is ideal, for compared with traditional chant repertory Ambrosian chant tends to have a melodic, floating quality generated by a lot of stepwise motion, and listeners who value chant for its meditative qualities should enjoy the surfaces of this recording even if they have no particular interest in chant variants. The presentation of how Ambrosian chant was used in liturgy is also effective. The album is divided into sections covering Office chants and Vespers. The former are sung within a polyphonic Mass Ordinary setting by the Milanese composer Franchino Gaffurio, an almost exact contemporary of Josquin (although hardly his equal), emphasizing the continuity of the Ambrosian repertory. The Vespers chants are in a different order than those of the normal Gregorian repertory, and they would have ended with a Kyrie. For that reason, the Kyrie of Gaffurio's mass is hears at the album's conclusion, something that may look odd to casual perusers of the track list. A good pick for anyone curious about how chant sounded (and sounds) in different European cities.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim