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Early Music America Review

Epiphany: Medieval Byzantine Chant

The singing is exquisite–clear, often haunting, with superb blend and breath…

Byzantine chant, now generally associated with the Eastern Orthodox Church, developed in the Eastern Roman Empire and is based on first-millennium Christian traditions. These were codified and further developed with the help of Byzantine musical notation, which appears in Greek sources starting in the 10th century. This recording features Byzantine chant edited from Medieval sources for January 1st and 6th, two of the major feasts of the Christmas season.

Cappella Romana, based in Portland, Oregon, has long been devoted to exploring the Byzantine repertoire, combining impeccable scholarship with a genuine passion for presenting this music as authentically as possible. The current collaboration with Ioannis Arvanitis, a prominent Greek musicologist, is a case in point.

The singing is exquisite–clear, often haunting, with superb blend and breath. But it is liturgy and therefore comes with the caveat attached to all recordings of liturgy: it was never written purely for your listening pleasure. Chant more often works as an experience than as a concert. I have stood listening to it for two hours in an Eastern Orthodox Church service and been transfixed. The booklet accompanying this disk describes the liturgical context of these works in detail, but not so vividly that you can imagine yourself in Hagia Sophia on the Feast of the Epiphany.

–Beth Adelman