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"Cyprus between Greek East & Latin West"

Cappella Romana
Dir: Alexander Lingas

rec: July 26 - 31, 2015, Portland, OR, St. Stephen Catholic Church
Cappella Romana - CD416-CD (© 2015) (64'46")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

[in order of appearance]
anon: Office of St. Hilarion (Letare, Ciprus florida, responsory); Gemma florens/Hec est dies, motet; Ho Hilaros tèn psychèn, sticheron prosomoion for St. Hilarion; Ek neotètos sou pheroon, sticheron doxastikon for St. Hilarion; Magni patris/Ovent Cyprus, motet; Hagios ho theos, trisagion of Orthros; Joannes KLADAS (fl c1400): Triadikòn kalophoonikón, Hymn to the Trinity; anon: Mass of St. Hilarion (Kyrie); Gloria; Mass of St. Hilarion (Alleluia Ave Sancte Ylarion; Exultantes collaudemus, sequence); Eis mnèmósunon aioonion, communion verse for saints; Paul KASAS (early 15th C), arr NICHOLAS (?-?): Katabasía, kratema; anon: Da, magne pater/Donis affatim perfluit orbis, motet

Spyridon Antonopoulos, Richard Barrett, John Michael Boyer, Aaron Cain, David Krueger, Emily Lau, Kerry McCarthy, Mark Powell, Melanie Downie Robinson, Catherine van der Salm, David Stutz

The history of Cyprus is full of conflicts between East and West. Today it is divided between a Greek and a Turkish community. In the first centuries of the Christian era it was part of the Roman empire until it came under joint Byzantine and Arab rule in the 7th century. In the 10th century it came under full control of Constantinople but in the 12th century it was strongly affected by the Crusades. During the Third Crusade King Richard I ('Lionheart') captured the island and sold it to Guy de Lusignan, former King of Jerusalem, in 1192. He established a dynasty which ruled the island for two centuries. In 1489 Cyprus became part of the Republic of Venice; in 1571 it was captured by the Ottoman empire.

Greek-speaking Orthodox Christians constituted the majority of the population. Among the minorities were Armenians, Syriac Christians, Jews and people from western Europe. The latter included traders and refugees from Crusader states which were captured by the Arabs. This is the point where the present disc starts as it brings music from the western and eastern liturgical traditions which met in Cyprus. Alexander Lingas writes in his liner-notes: "[Toleration] became the rule in succeeding generations marked by increasing intermarriage between the Greek and Latin communities. In both the capital of Nicosia (Leukosia) and the coastal city of Famagusta (Ammochostos) Roman Catholic cathedrals in the Gothic style were constructed in close proximity to their Eastern Orthodox counterparts".

The programme includes pieces from the two liturgical traditions. They had common roots in the Christian psalmody of Roman late antiquity and ancient Greek musical theory. This explains that in both traditions plainchant is predominant, although on different texts (in Latin and in Greek respectively). Lingas mentions that some techniques practised by western singers were adopted by Greek cantors, especially in regions with religiously mixed populations. However, during the 14th century liturgical music was further developed and at that time the two styles began to diverge. On the western side the ars nova exerted its influence on sacred music; the motets included in the programme are specimens of this influence in the use of different texts sung simultaneously. The introduction of mensural notation allowed for a specific indication of the relative duration of notes. On the Byzantine side a development took place which a scholar called 'a Byzantine Ars nova'. It is connected to Joannes Koukouzeles who was educated in Constantinople and became a monk at Count Athos. He codified older repertoire and intiated the so-called kalophonic ('beautiful sounding') chant. "The kalophonic technique of embellishment was applied to traditional melodies, which from the 14th century onwards were regarded as 'ancient', and in newly composed florid settings. Kalophonic chants gradually replaced the more limited centonate asmatikon chants of the 13th century." (New Grove)

The programme is situated in the 15th century and is a mixture of traditional chant and more elaborated pieces of a more recent date. The pieces in the Latin part of the programme are all taken from a single manuscript preserved in the Biblioteca Nazionale in Turin (Torino J.II.9). Pieces from this same source were also used by Paul Van Nevel for his recording of music at the court of King Janus (1398-1432) (Sony, 1994). These pieces are all anonymous but some of them could be from the pen of Jean Hanelle, who was first active in Cambrai Cathedral and was in the service of Janus' wife, Charlotte de Bourbon, from 1411 to 1422. He seems also to have been in charge of the manuscript being put together. It includes sacred and secular pieces, the latter on French texts. Here we hear some motets - all with two texts, called triplum and motetus respectively - and mass sections. Also included are pieces for St Hilarion, an early Christian monk from the 4th century who lived as a hermit in Cyprus and was since then regarded as the island's patron.

He also keeps the two parts of the programme together. The Greek part opens with two hymns (stichera) from the Office for St Hilarion. They are specimens of traditional Byzantine chant. Other pieces are in the new kalophonic style. In some cases we know the composers. One of them is Joannes Kladas, who in some manuscripts is only called Lampadarios, which means 'leader of the left-hand choir'; he was active as such in the Great Church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. One of his compositions is the Hymn to the Trinity (track 7). One notable feature is the inclusion of a long passage towards the end, which is a vocalisation on the word "terererere". This is an example of teretismata. These could also be used for a kratema, which was sometimes included to prolong a liturgical moment. "Although their vocables were rendered exclusively with the human voice, kratemata could serve liturgical functions analogous to those of the organ preludes, interludes, and postludes found in later Western liturgical traditions". Such a kratema is included here in Katabasía, on the 'text' "Errerere terretekeena ... neagie". It is from the pen of Paul Kasas, Protopsaltes (First-Cantor) of Cyprus during the early 15th century. The ending is one of two available for this piece.

Hagios ho theos is an example of the newest music from the selected period. At that time Byzantine chant came under the influence of the music written in Crete which was under Venetian rule. "[The] changes included alterations of melodic style and the extension of modal variety to a broader range of liturgical genres." The Trisagion is a hymn composed as a conclusion to the Great Doxology of the Byzantine morning Office of Orthros; it is taken from a manuscript which was put together in the 16th century.

Cappella Romana is an ensemble which specializes in "early and contemporary music of the Christian East and West", as the rear inlay says. It has several discs with Byzantine music to its credit. This explains that the programme recorded here sounds very idiomatic, at least to my ears. The singing is impressive and the liturgical character of the chants selected for this disc comes off convincingly. The booklet includes much information about the music and the history of Cypriot liturgical repertoire. There is also something about performance practice.

When I wrote this review for MusicWeb International I raised some questions regarding the pronunciation. "The Latin texts are pronounced the Italian way, and I wonder whether there is any evidence that this is in accordance with the habits of the time. After all, it was only in the early 19th century that the Italian pronunciation was mandatory in the Roman Catholic Church. Even more questionable is the Greek pronunciation. If I am not mistaken the Greek texts are pronounced in modern Greek which I noticed especially in the cases of sounds like the th, the ? and ai. If that is the case I find that regrettable as it has a considerable influence on the sound of the music. This kind of repertoire takes much profit from a strictly historical approach."

The ensemble's executive director, Mark Powell, has been so kind to reply to this issue. "On the question of pronunciation, it was likely that Italian singers were also imported to Cyprus, thus the Italianate style of Latin (though a careful listening will reveal a softening of some consonants). As for the Greek, pronunciation of Byzantine Greek is very close to Modern Greek; we did not take the anachronistic Erasmian style as a model, so in fact we did take a rigorously historical approach." He latter added a note to the Italian pronunciation of Latin: "We can also say that the J.ii.9 manuscript of the Latin pieces came from Italy (thus the softened Italian pronunciation of the Latin)." I very much appreciate the clarification of these aspects of performance practice.

This is a very interesting and musically compelling recording of largely unknown repertoire in unfamiliar idioms. Anyone interested in early liturgical music should investigate this disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

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