Ed Spanjaard / Marcel Beekman

Calliope Tsoupaki: St. Luke's Passion

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Greek-Dutch composer Calliope Tsoupaki's St. Luke's Passion melds a variety of Western and Eastern musical traditions with exceptional skill and vision, and defies easy description: it doesn't sound quite like anything else. The music of the Orthodox Church is an obvious foundation on which she builds, and one of her three vocal soloists is a male Byzantine singer, Ioannis Arvanitis. The others are female Palestinian singer Raneen Hanna and Dutch operatic tenor Marcel Beekman. A strong Trinitarian theme underlies Tsoupaki's work and other performers include three traditional Byzantine instrumentalists and three members of male vocalist Egidius Kwartet. The Dutch Nieuw Ensemble, an exotically constituted chamber ensemble, and members of the Ioannis Arvanitis Byzantine Choir provide further support. Tsoupaki combines the various tuning systems, performing traditions, and harmonic and melodic languages with such inspiration and clear sense of purpose that the Passion sounds entirely unique and new, but at the same time rooted in remote antiquity. The textures and flow of the music conjure archaic imagery, but using very sophisticated contemporary compositional techniques. While the melodies are primarily modal, the harmonies are in fact quite dissonant, but they register not as dissonant so much as raw and powerful. Tsoupaki's unhurried traversal of the Passion narrative evokes a mysterious, unpredictable, ancient ritual. This work reveals her as a major talent, a composer to watch out for. The piercingly intense performances of the three vocal soloists are nothing less than phenomenal; all of the performances, in fact, led by Ed Spanjaard, are extraordinarily gripping in their visceral impact. Unfortunately, the performance is not complete; the 15-minute third movement, "Threnos," is omitted, apparently to fit the work onto a single disc. Taken from a performance at the 2008 Holland Festival, this recording should be of strong interest to fans of new vocal and choral music, and of boundary-stretching religious music. Highly recommended.

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