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Mysteries of Byzantine Chant
Toaca and ells [1:40]
Doxa [1:38]
Tis metanias [3:10]
Devte idomen tin zoin [3:41]
Eotinala: Os epeskhaton ton khronon [4:12]
Ektenie: Kyrie o Theos imon [1:19]
To sinbolon tis pisteos [3:03]
Trisagion: Aghios o Theos [3:01]
Ektenie: Kyrie pantocrator [1:35]
Ekfonis: Oti eleimon [0:37]
Se ton anavallomenon to phos [5:01]
Anastaseos imera [2:37]
Khristos anesti (with toaca and bells) [2:24]
Macarie IEROMONAHUL (18th Century)
Kyrie, ekekraxa [3:33]
Yannis SAKELLARIDIS (1853-1938)
Phos ilaron [1:59]
Nectarie VLAHUL (1804-1899)
Axion [5:33]
Paul CONSTANTINESCU (1909-1963)
Exigorasas imas (from Easter Oratorio) [2:31]
Proskinumen sou ta pathi Khriste (from Easter Oratorio) [3:19]
Khristos anesti (from Easter Oratorio) [1:53]
Gheorghe Popescu BRANESTI (19th Century)
Kyrie [1:36]
Theodoros PHOKEOS (1770-1851)
Anixantos Sou tin khira [3:12]
Petros PELOPONISIOS (1730-1777)
Dhouli kyrion [2:14]
Gheorghe CUCU (1882-1932)
Aghios o Theos [1:39]
I zoi en tapho [0:44]
Ion Buga (priest); Gabriel Oprea (psalm singer); Marian Fartat (psalm singer); Nicolae Giolu (psalm singer); Aurel Frangulea (psalm singer); Kontakion/Mihail Diaconescu
rec. August, 1995, Santuario de la Bien Aprecida, Ampuero, Spain. DDD
DECCA ELOQUENCE 4429629 [63:03]


At first this CD may be a little hard to get to grips with. It’s worth persistence. 

The music on offer here is also likely either to leave you cold; or to captivate – as conventionally with bagpipes. Mysteries of Byzantine Chant is an anthology of liturgical music from both Romania and Greece for Holy Week and Easter. The two dozen short items - none is longer than five and a half minutes - are anonymous and traditional. They are by named composers from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries. 

So, although apparently representative and ‘semi-staged’ - there are priests, respondents and psalm singers - Mysteries of Byzantine Chant is something of a sampler. Women’s voices are used too; something that is not common practice in the Byzantine tradition. The intention is to illustrate the influence of Byzantine Orthodoxy as part of the more familiar Greek traditions on the only Latin country (Romania) to embrace it fully.

Some of the texts themselves originate from earlier (the eighth century) than the first musical notation (the tenth century). So reconstruction involves much informed guesswork. This is not, perhaps, quite so much of a task as might be supposed.  Interestingly this CD itself shows why: there is a remarkable continuity in Byzantine chant. This is evidenced by the style of compositions dating from the last 150 years. Examples on this CD are from Phokeos, Vlahaul and Sakellardis -  who all died in the hundred years before the middle of the last century. This surely reduces the latitude within which even the earliest monophonic chant was formed; monophonic chant was still being written in this milieu in the fourteenth century anyway.

This monophonic style makes use of the ison or drone: while sounding melodically complex, such chant is – nevertheless – truly monophonic. Another complexity which this CD illustrates well is the (positive, and creative) tension that resulted from the adaptation of Greek chant to the Romanian language from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. Greek was typically melismatic; Romanian syllabic.

So, although western plainchant might make a good point of reference for those totally unfamiliar with the idiom of the beautiful, rich and very moving music to be heard in this selection, there are many theological, rhetorical, poetical and doctrinal differences that contribute to the clean and direct impact which it makes in performance. These characteristics have obviously been respected in what’s on offer here. The darker, more insistent music of the Russian Orthodox traditions might also make a point of comparison. But this, Byzantine, music is lighter in texture, more focused; it’s spontaneous; unrushed; it’s expressive without being self-conscious. We’re not ‘listening in’ on the devotions of others. Nor are we being invited to participate. Merely to understand and appreciate the sense of wonder and at times of rapture experienced by the performers.

Again the CD provides its own demonstration of this unhurried confidence: the handful of twentieth century compositions - by Cucu and Constantinescu - on Mysteries of Byzantine Chant continue and implicitly venerate the traditions of the earlier musical forms, atmosphere and purposes. They do not try to update or adapt them.

One might have wished for a collection a little more organic … holistic. This is a series of excerpts. The booklet is rather sketchy; yet the acoustic and recording standards are more than adequate. The choral singing in particular is effortless and without seams. The ‘soloists’ are many steps away from folk traditions yet entirely genuine.

The overall impression that one has while listening to this disc is of quiet, undemonstrative highly confident and competent musicians and clerics engaged without fuss in something much older and more profound than they are. Yet, thanks to their technique and commitment, this is music with which they can and do closely identify. They do so with an inevitability that’s as transparent and persuasive as is that drone which will leave this music in your head for hours after you’ve stopped listening to it.

Mark Sealey




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