Christmas in the Holy Land: Ancient Christian Liturgies

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While most people will be content to hear familiar Christian hymns and popular carols at Christmastime, admirers of sacred music may want to listen to the traditional chants and prayers of the ancient Christian churches to feel closer to the origins of the holy day. Archiv Produktion's 2007 reissue of Christmas in the Holy Land presents chants from the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Coptic, and other rites of the Middle East, performed by bishops, monks, and nuns in their own churches in Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nazareth, and Jaffa. The disc opens and closes with recordings of the Bells of the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, which frame the vocal tracks with an appealing festivity. The analog recordings of the chants, which were made by Israeli ethnomusicologist Amnon Shiloah, date from 1967 and are quite clean and vibrant, with very little of the background noises that usually afflict in situ recordings made during liturgies; the close-up microphone placement gives the singing an intimate feeling that is quite impressive for recordings made on a portable tape recorder. Since this disc explores religious traditions that are largely unfamiliar in the west, the informative liner notes explain much of the background of the music and are a great aid to appreciation.

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