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“Cyprus – Between Greek East & Latin West” – Cappella Romana/ A. Lingas – Cappella Romana

An innovative program concept that results in equally persuasive performances.
“Cyprus – Between Greek East & Latin West” – Cappella Romana/ Alexander Lingas – Cappella Romana CR416, 64:46 [Distr. by Allegro] *****:

I have often been asked over the years what the real differences are between Gregorian and Byzantine chants. After all, most scholars—though the evidence is not conclusive—allow for the idea of both corpuses stemming from the same source in origin, mainly the Hebrew psalmody during the formation of the Christian Church, though both Gregorian and Byzantine chant as it is known today are in fact later developments. Both bodies were influenced by the Greek octoechos system of modes, the Gregorian getting the main thrust from the Frankish-Roman Carolingian influences in the mid-late first millennium, while the Byzantine labored under efforts from the establishment of Constantinople through its fall in 1453. Needless to say, the field of each presents an inexhaustible mine of study for researchers, and many more dots remain to be connected before we can have even an inkling of the origins of ecumenical Christian Chant.

This latest disc from Cappella Romana and its intrepid director Alexander Lingas, does not attempt to answer these questions of origin, but instead to focus on a locale where both traditions were present simultaneously, the island of Cyprus, during late medieval times. The selections honor the patron saint of Cyprus, Hilarion (a great third-fourth-century ascetic), and also offers music from the Cypriot Codex. Cyprus has been conquered and reconquered numerous times, and as a result there are vestiges of many religious and cultural presences, not least of which are the majority Orthodox, at least 80% of the population, and probably higher than that. The Roman Catholics are less than two percent currently, but that does not erase the historical presence that was quite significant.

The premise of this disc is that by walking the distance between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Cathedrals in the capital of Nicosia in the fifteenth century, music such as that found here could be heard easily. Both shared the common heritage of setting the psalter and other evolving texts, and each was unaccompanied and geared toward the idea of worshipful expression as opposed to the later more emotive settings that appeared in the first years of the pre-Baroque age. Chant, as it was called, served the purpose of elevating the experience of corporate praise to God, keeping the deity first and foremost in mind, instead of the more sensual attractions that seemed to have the stimulation of the listener’s emotions as a primary consideration.

Hearing this Orthodox and Roman Catholic music side-by-side is quite enlightening. Saturate yourself in either for about an hour and then switch for another hour, and you’ll swear they are the most disparate genres ever. Listen to both, sometimes alternating as here, and the similarities are striking. In fact, there are moments when you just can’t be sure which you are hearing. This is not an historical program, nor is there any intention in “authentic” practice; instead we have an innovative and exploratory presentation of two “competing” musical idioms thrown together by historical coincidence, that perhaps participated in a certain amount of cross-pollinizing, yet remained a vital and vivid focal point for the ecumenical meeting of two great traditions sharing essentially the same neighborhood.

Cappella Romana is at its sterling best, well-disciplined and highly focused readings of authority, clarity, and, most importantly, genuine empathy and feeling. Couple that with ingratiating sound and you have a highly desirable disc.

1. ANONYMOUS: Responsory: Letare Cyprus (from the Office of St. Hilarion)
2. Motet 8 Gemma florens/Hec est dies (MS Torino J.ii.9)
3. Sticheron Prosomoion for St. Hilarion in Mode 4
4. Sticheron for St. Hilarion in Mode 2
5. Motet 17 Magni patris/Ovent Cyprus (MS Torino J.ii.9)
6. Orthros Trisagion MS Sinai 1313
7. Kyrie for St. Hilarion (MS Torino J.ii.9)
8. Gloria (MS Torino J.ii.9)
9. Alleluia: Ave Sancte Ylarion (MS Torino J.ii.9)
10. Sequence (MS Torino J.ii.9)
11. Motet 33 Da magne/Donis (MS Torino J.ii.9)
12. C. ASAN/KLADAS: Kalophonikon, from EBE 2406
13. N. ASAN: Eis mnymosynon, EBE 2406

—Steven Ritter

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