Choir of the Romanian Patriarchate

Romanian Byzantine Hymns

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The cultural situation in Romania under the dictatorship of Caecescu was as inconsistent as it was severe. While simultaneously demolishing classic Byzantine churches, or building apartment complexes around them so nobody could see them anymore, the dictator meanwhile authorized the state recording company to release anthologies of Byzantine hymns, including material from as far back as the 11th and 12th centuries. The high rating is for the music, which is really beautiful. The choir is conducted by the Reverend Julian Carstoiu and features soloist Florian Dumitrescu. The performances of these ten pieces are flawless, soaring above and beyond a vinyl pressing that sounds like it was done with a cement mixer, perhaps a probability since one of Caecescu's great passions was creating more and more cement. Packaging would certainly receive as low a rating as the dictator's ability to govern. In this capacity, Caecescu was eventually rewarded with a public execution, a bad review in anybody's book. One wouldn't even want to mail a note to the corner grocery store in the "album cover" this came in; perhaps the dictator was hoping the lack of protection would make the records sound so scratchy nobody would listen to them anymore. The collection is a fascinating study in the evolution of a particularly Romanian approach to these hymns. The composer, Dimitrie Kiriac, was apparently a large influence, pushing performers to go beyond the original monodic -- everyone singing in unison -- form of these pieces, despite the widely held fear that the hymns would lose their authenticity if made more complex through the use of polyphony. One of Kiriac's pieces is included in the program. His influence eventually won out, leading to the marvelous psaltic polyphony that is presented here and is considered uniquely Romanian.

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