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East Empire Light - Byzantine and post-Byzantine Greek music
see end of review for track listing
Musica Antiqua Serbiana/Vera Zlokovich
rec. date and location not specified
No texts included
MERIDIAN CDE84543 [62:06]

The political changes in Europe in the late 1980s which resulted in the dismantling of the Eastern Bloc had all sorts of implications and these extended to the world of music. Musicians who lived in relative isolation all of a sudden had access to sources outside their own realm, and could become acquainted with the new insights into performance practice. On the other hand, the West learnt about developments in a part of the globe they mostly didn't know, and the results of research on the musical past of that part of the continent of which they were not aware.
 
Musicians in Eastern European states sometimes had to confine themselves to delving into the musical heritage of their own country. In some cases this was encouraged by the regimes: the awareness of a rich cultural heritage could unite the people whereas the state ideology more and more lost its appeal. After the fall of the Iron Curtain and as part of the process of growth towards independence interest in local history and culture increased. In this way people could become more aware of their national identity. The last decade of the 20th century has shown that interest in national heritage had its drawbacks, and that notion is especially relevant as this disc is devoted to music from the Balkans, in particular Serbia. One cannot read the words of Bishop Danilo Krstic in the booklet without thinking of the role of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the war at the Balkans. Milena Miloradovic, music editor of Serbian radio and television, states in her liner-notes that "every well-educated singer is a precious bloom in the Orthodox garden adding colour, but above all promoting faith and love among people". I will say no more about that.
 
This disc is devoted to the early stages of Orthodox liturgical music. These are not that well-known to other than insiders, and certainly not in the Western part of Europe, let alone elsewhere. It is a great thing that the fruits of research such as that by Vera Zlokovich are made available to a wider public. However, it is a real shame that this comes without any documentation about the nature of the chants, their place in the liturgy or even the time of the ecclesiastical year for which they were written. The texts would have given clues in regard to the latter, but these are omitted as well. Instead we get a biography - not particularly objective at that - of Vera Zlokovich and her ensemble and a description of her activities. This is all very interesting, but not half as fascinating as the music. That is what I would like to know more about.
 
Almost all of these pieces are monophonic. We are not talking about a single voice alone here. Most of the pieces are performed by a solo voice, sometimes in alternation with chorus, singing over a kind of ‘bourdon’ taken by a choir. The rear inlay indicates that all the pieces are arranged. I would like to know in what way they have been arranged. Considering the differences in region and time there is a remarkable stylistic similarity among the items here and this bears witness to the strength of the tradition and the relative isolation in which these chants were sung.
 
That isolation makes it all the more surprising that some chants reminded me of liturgical music in Western Europe, especially the so-called 'Notre Dame School', which is associated with composers like Perotinus and Leoninus. That goes in particular for Ize heruvimi - a chant from Bulgaria (track 15). This piece dates from the 17th century - one again a token of the strength of the tradition of Orthodox liturgical music. Another piece which shows some similarity to the organa of the Notre Dame School, is the Russian chant Blazen muz, also from the 17th century. The disc ends with a polyphonic piece, Allilosa.
 
This is all fascinating stuff. Listening to these chants raises many questions but the booklet doesn't answer any of them. Therefore: more of this repertoire, please, but this time let’s have some useful background information.

Johan van Veen
http://www.musica-dei-donum.org
https://twitter.com/johanvanveen

Track listing
anon (8th Century)
Anastaseus Hemera [2:09]
ROMANOS the Melodist (6th Century)
He Parthenos Semeron [4:03]
anon (15th Century)
Encomion eis tas treis Statias [7:10]
anon (14th Century)
Christos anestié [1:43]
[Chant of archaic Serbia]
ISAIAH the Serb (15th Century)
Agios o Theos [2:38]
anon (14th Century)
Spasi, Gospodi [2:05]
Kyr STEPHEN the Serb (14th/15th Century)
Vkusite [2:42]
JOACHIM the Serb (13th Century)
Alleluia [1:42]
anon (Greacus) (13th/14th Century)
Zeni mironosici [1:58]
NICOLAS the Serb (15th Century)
Blagosoven jesi, Hriste Boze nas [2:05] Kyr STEPHEN the Serb
Ize Heruvimi [3:45]
[Two traditional chants from Karlovci]
anon (17th Century)
Cto Tebje prinesem, Hriste [2:19]
anon (18th Century)
Volsvi Persidstvi [3:39]
[Old Bulgarian music]
anon (17th Century)
Velicaj, duse moja [2:12]
anon (17th Century)
Ize heruvimi [5:02]
anon (16th Century)
Svjatij Boze [2:29]
[The early Russian prayer]
anon (16th Century)
Blazen muz [1:39]
anon (15th Century)
Ize heruvimi [2:46]
anon (17th Century)
Svjete tihij [2:00]
anon (5th Century)
Allilosa [2:58]
 


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