Chant byzantin, Chant traditionnel maronite is a special edition "presentation pack" housed in a tall, 34-page booklet and decorated with copious color illustrations and easily readable text. Harmonia Mundi has issued this to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the release of the first album, Chant byzantin, by Lebanese nun and musicologist Sister Marie Keyrouz. Prior to the arrival of Keyrouz, Western scholars and listeners alike hadn't paid much heed to Middle Eastern Christian chant, perhaps owing to its obscurity and strongly Arabic flavor. Chant byzantin pretty much took the West by surprise upon its arrival in 1989, not only with the apparently ancient repertoire it represents, but also due to Keyrouz's own incredible virtuosity; her ability to sing the tiniest intervals in rapid flourishes, notes that are difficult for most singers to hear, let alone sing. Keyrouz's voice is a fabulous instrument that has a universal appeal.
Chant byzantin is the purest of the two discs, featuring Keyrouz backed by a small chorus that mostly sings drones as the soloist weaves delicate and complex figurations in the foreground. Chant traditionnel maronite features L'Ensemble de la Paix, a small band of Arabic instrumentalists, and sounds more closely related to typically non-Christian Arabic traditional music than Chant byzantin. Maronite chant is a tradition of singing associated with the Maronite church, founded in Syria in the fifth century by Saint Maroun and permitted to retain its own separate liturgy from that of the Roman church. The Maronite church is the primary sect of Christianity observed in Sister Marie Keyrouz's home country of Lebanon.
As an introduction to the music of Keyrouz this special edition is more than adequate. For those of us who only have the small, standard-size shelving units to house our compact disc collections, the tall booklet will present a problem.