The best way for the listener to the plainchant of the Western Christian church to get an idea of how it was originally used is to attend an Orthodox church service, where everyone is standing and singing for most of the time, and the music is not an abstract elaboration of the meaning of the service but the meaning's primary carrier. The same is true of this recording of Good Friday music that might have been heard at and around the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in medieval Jerusalem, even if the performances were taped in Stanford, California, by the male singers of the U.S.-based Cappella Romana. The word "around" is used because the Greek-language service music heard here was, to use one of the many new words listeners will learn if they buy this album, "stational" because it moved from church to church, evoking physically and musically the crucifix procession. Byzantine chant in general is less often sung than the chant of the Western church, although its history is equally long and unbroken. It takes a good deal of scholarly effort to reconstruct a program like this from manuscripts in various places (some are Armenian) and at various levels of notational detail. The result, though, is spectacular. The chants were sung (if this reconstruction is correct) with a low drone note whose resonances are well engineered here, and the chant melodies themselves are densely ornate. The singers of the Cappella Romana execute them crisply and with a sense of connection to the texts, all of which are given in translation in the booklet from Greek to English. The chant types have different names from those in the Roman church, but have roughly the same functions; these, too, are explained. Recommended not only for those planning a trip to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, but to anyone curious about Byzantine chant in general.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
Rulers of the peoples / They laid a lawless charge / Let us bring our senses, Antiphon 1 in Mode Plagal 4
Today he who hung the earth upon the waters is hung upon a Tree / Your Cross, lord, Antiphon 15 in Mode Plagal 2
|Kontakion on the Passion of the Lord, Mode Plagal 4|
When all creation saw you crucified, Sticheron prosomoion in Mode 4 (to the melody You have given us a sign)