Recordings

Steinberg: Passion Week a Gramophone Recording of the Year

Maximilian Steinberg: Passion Week

Steinberg: Passion WeekGramophone Magazine released their 2015 Recordings of the Year issue and included our Maximilian Steinberg: Passion Week recording!

“This important and exciting release from the Portland, Oregon-based 26-strong chamber choir is a notable successor to their ‘Good Friday in Jerusalem’ disc (5/15). … This recording closely followed what is believed to have been the premiere complete performance by these forces. … The a cappella textures spread variously and luxuriantly into 12 parts, requiring, as might be expected, the sopranos to soar with jewel-like brilliance and the basses to delve to their reedy subterranean depths. Cappella Romana cope with all of this with an eloquent brilliance, singing with tremendous relish, as though this obscure masterpiece had been in their repertory for years. Their unanimity of attack and fastidious approach to dynamic contrasts are just two hallmarks of an outstanding achievement. Hats off, too, to Preston Smith and Steve Barnett for their superb engineering and production. …the finest advocacy from these fine musicians. This is definitely a disc to savour.” —Malcolm Riley, Gramophone Magazine

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Latin Music in Cyprus

Cyprus: Between Greek East and Latin West

Cyprus: Between Greek East & Latin WestLiterary witnesses to the cultivation of music by the French kings of Cyprus are found in a variety of sources, but nearly all of the surviving music associated with the Lusignan court is contained in a single manuscript: Torino Biblioteca Nazionale Universitaria J.II.9. This remarkable document was, according to Karl Kügle (2012), evidently copied between 1434 and 1436 under the supervision of Jean Hanelle, one of two priest-musicians from Cambrai (the other was Gilet Velut) who arrived in Cyprus in 1411 with Charlotte of Bourbon, the second wife of King Janus I (1398–1432). Whereas Velut appears to have soon left the island, Hanelle remained in the service of the Lusignan family for decades, becoming scribendaria of the Roman Catholic cathedral of Nicosia in 1428 and also, at some point, master of the Cypriot king’s chapel. Probably travelling to Italy in 1433 as part of the Cypriot delegation for the marriage of Anne of Lusignan to Louis of Savoy, Hanelle then seems to have supervised the production of Torino J.II.9 for the Avogadro family of Brescia, whose coat of arms is on the first folio of the codex.

Since all of the music in J.II.9 is anonymous and there are no known melodic concordances with other sources, Kügle has suggested that its contents may be largely the work of Hanelle, and, perhaps, of some of his colleagues at the Lusignan court. The Torino manuscript opens with a section of Latin plainchant (a rhymed Office and Mass for St Hilarion, a rhymed Office for St Anne, and six sets of chants for the ordinary of the Mass), followed by a fascicle of polyphonic music for the Mass ordinary, and then another section containing 41 polytextual motets (33 in Latin and 4 in French). The remainder of the codex is devoted almost entirely to polyphonic French secular song (ballades, virelais, and rondeaux), the exception being a single polyphonic Mass cycle inserted by a later hand after the fascicle of ballades. The polyphony of J.II.9 ranges in idiom from technically advanced compositions displaying the rhythmic complexity characteristic of the so-called ars subtilior (‘subtler art’) cultivated in France and northern Italy during the later fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries to works in comparatively simple styles. An example of the latter is the largely homophonic Gloria in excelsis 10 for three voices, which features textures not entirely unlike those that could be produced by polyphonically elaborating chant in performance (as in the preceding Kyrie for St Hilarion).

Interspersed throughout the present recording is music for St Hilarion, an early Christian monk whose biography was written by St Jerome. Born in Gaza in 291, he learned asceticism in Egypt as a disciple of St Anthony the Great and completed his earthly life as a hermit near the city of Paphos in Cyprus. St Hilarion was thereafter regarded as a patron of the island; the castle in Kyrenia that served as the Lusignan summer residence was dedicated to him. In 1414 the court of King Janus marked the feast of St Hilarion (21 October) with newly composed services that the Avignon Pope John XXIII had recently approved for celebration with the issuance of a papal bull that is copied at the very beginning of codex J.II.9.

Cappella Romana CyprusThe Vespers responsory Letare Ciprus mixes praise for St Hilarion with supplication for the island, themes that the verse of the Mass Alleluia Ave Sancte Ylarion recalls amidst a stream of Greek terms. Detailed references to the life of the saint enrich the encomia and entreaties of the following Sequence Exultantes collaudemus in a manner similar to the texts of Motet 17 Magni patris/Ovent Cyprus, one voice of which, the motetus, directly asks Hilarion to intercede for King Janus.

The medieval motet is a form of polyphony in which upper voices, each of which may be provided with its own text, are supported by a foundational part (the ‘tenor’) that is either taken from a pre-existing melody (often a piece of plainchant) or, as is the case with all but two of the motets in the Torino manuscript, newly composed. Nearly all of the parts in the motets of J.II.9 feature what modern scholars call ‘isorhythm’, namely the repetition of a rhythmic pattern (talea) one or more times following its initial statement. This repetition may be literal or, as in the case of Motet 8 Gemma Florens/Hec est dies, involve patterns of diminution (in this case, a talea repeated twice in 3:1 diminution for a total of four statements).

Gemma Florens/Hec est dies is one of several motets commemorating milestones in the life of the Lusignan family, evidently having been written to mark the baptism in 1418 of John, the son of Janus and Charlotte of Bourbon. Its triplum voice emphasises kinship with the French royal family into which Charlotte was born, mentioning a ‘Macarius’ who is probably to be understood as being St Denys of Paris. Its motetus, on the other hand, speaks of the birth of John the Baptist to Elizabeth before invoking Christ’s protection on King Janus. Although differing in their wording, both upper voices of Motet 33 Da magne Pater/Donis affatim are hymns of praise to God featuring the acrostic ‘Deo gratias’, the concluding response for the Mass of the Roman rite.

—Alexander Lingas

Read Part One
Read Part Two
Read Part Four

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Concert Tickets

Seattle

Friday, 13 Nov. 2015, 7:30pm
Blessed Sacrament
TICKETS

Portland

Saturday, 14 Nov. 2015, 7:30pm
Trinity Episcopal Cathedral
TICKETS


Sunday, 15 Nov. 2015, 2:30pm
St. Mary’s Cathedral
TICKETS

Cyprus — The Ars nova and its Byzantine Counterpart

Cyprus: Between Greek East and Latin West

Cyprus: Between Greek East & Latin WestLatin and Greek sacred music of the Middle Ages shared both roots in the Christian psalmody of Roman Late Antiquity and a common inheritance of Ancient Greek musical theory. Despite centuries of troubled relations between Byzantine Christianity and the Church of Rome that went from bad to worse with the Crusader sack and occupation of Constantinople in 1204, Western and Greek writers continued to describe favourably encounters with the music of their counterparts well into the fifteenth century (Lingas 2006). One reason for this is that musical expression in the two traditions of worship remained, at base, stylistically similar. Although differing in liturgical language and the particularities of their respective systems of worship, music in the Roman and Byzantine rites consisted mainly of the unaccompanied singing of psalms and other sacred texts, a practice that we call today ‘chant’, or ‘plainchant’. Furthermore, the ways in which Byzantine and Roman (Gregorian) chant were sung seem to have been aurally compatible, even to the point of allowing simple techniques practiced by Western singers of spontaneously adding unwritten vocal parts to a chant according to basic rules of consonance – that is, the performance practices of organum and cantus planus binatim (‘plainchant twice’) – to be adopted in some circumstances by Greek cantors, especially those serving regions with religiously mixed populations.

Even as these traditional styles of chanting continued to dominate Latin and Greek worship throughout the Middle Ages, during the fourteenth century the musical elites of West and East developed strikingly different approaches to the composition of technically advanced music. In the West, circles of theorists and composers fostered what some of them labelled a ‘New Art’ (Ars nova) of writing music in multiple parts that further distanced the practice of polyphony from its origins in improvisation. They accomplished this through the introduction of French and Italian systems of ‘mensural’ (‘measured’) musical notation that were capable of recording the relative durations of sounds with unprecedented precision, thereby allowing privileged groups of court musicians to create sacred and secular polyphonic works of great formal sophistication and rhythmic complexity.

Currents of artistic renewal in the Greek East took a markedly different route, being channelled into the elaboration of Byzantine chant. The most influential figure in the musical revolution that Edward Williams (1972) called ‘A Byzantine Ars nova’ was the composer, editor, music theorist, and Saint, John Koukouzeles (late 13th–early 14th c.). His Life identifies him as a native of Dyrrhachium (modern Dürres, Albania) who was educated in Constantinople, where he became a musician at the imperial court. Koukouzeles eventually left the capital to take up the life of a contemplative (‘hesychast’) monk of the Great Lavra on Mount Athos. He subsequently spent his weekdays in solitude practicing hesychia (literally ‘quietude’), but returned to his monastery for weekends and feasts to assist with the chanting of the All-Night Vigil. Byzantine musical manuscripts reveal that Koukouzeles contributed to the codification of older repertories while pioneering a new kalophonic (‘beautiful sounding’) idiom of chanting that spread rapidly throughout the Orthodox world. Kalophonic singing is characterised generally by vocal virtuosity, but individual chants may display different combinations of the following techniques: textual repetition, the addition of new texts (troping), melisma (the melodic extension of a single vowel), and the composition of teretismata, wordless passages on such strings of vocables as ananenes and terirem.

The present recording offers a sampling of the Byzantine and Latin sacred music that someone could have encountered during the fifteenth century by walking the short distance between the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic cathedrals of Nicosia. Selections of Byzantine and Latin chant in traditional genres are situated among kalophonic and polyphonic works representing the most technically advanced forms of vocal music performed on the island. The singers of Cappella Romana render this music in the light of the literary and musical witnesses to the aural compatibility of medieval Greek and Latin chanting noted above. Their vocal aesthetic is further informed by the oral traditions of received forms of Byzantine chanting (including those practiced on the Ionian Islands, which remained under Venetian control after the Ottoman conquest of Crete in 1649; see Dragoumis 1978), as well as the documentary evidence for melodic ornamentation and other forms of embellishment in sacred music of the Western Middle Ages (McGee 1998).

—Alexander Lingas

Read Part One
Read Part Three
Read Part Four

Order the Recording

Concert Tickets

Seattle

Friday, 13 Nov. 2015, 7:30pm
Blessed Sacrament
TICKETS

Portland

Saturday, 14 Nov. 2015, 7:30pm
Trinity Episcopal Cathedral
TICKETS


Sunday, 15 Nov. 2015, 2:30pm
St. Mary’s Cathedral
TICKETS

Cyprus First Listen

Cyprus: Between Greek East & Latin West

Get a first listen to our new Cyprus: Between Greek East and Latin West recording today!

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Early Music America Reviews Good Friday in Jerusalem

Good Friday In Jerusalem: Medieval Byzantine Chant from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Good Friday In Jerusalem: Medieval Byzantine Chant from the Church of the Holy SepulchreDonald Rosenberg reviews our Good Friday In Jerusalem recording in Early Music America Magazine:

“Here Cappella Romana travels back to the roots of Byzanitne chant to recreate a Good Friday service through the music of the 8th and 9th centuries. The recording shot to the top of Amazon and Billboard charts when released, and it takes only a few seconds to understand why listeners have been mesmerized. From the moment the ensemble’s cavernous basses intone drones that anchor extended, contemplative chants, you won’t be able to tear yourself away from your speakers or earbuds. … The disc, the ensemble’s 20th, was recorded in Stanford University’s Memorial Church, a space of subtle resonance that allows the music to float on a halo of sound without ever becoming hazy. The singers of Cappella Romana…sustain the long phrases with remarkable finesse and breath control, including those intrepid basses, who appear to possess endless reserves of air. Along with tonal beauty, the ensemble brings utmost clarity to texts that inspired music of ecstatic and penetrating splendor. The soloists, the Greek-born Stelios Kontakiotis and Portland native John Michael Boyer, are eloquent champions of chant.” —Donald Rosenberg, Early Music America

See the full review in the Fall 2015 issue of Early Music America

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Cyprus Recording Session Photos

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A look at the first night of Cappella Romana’s Cyprus: Greek East & Latin West recording sessions:

Hear it this season:

Cyprus: Greek East & Latin West

To this day, the island of Cyprus stands at a crossroads between East and West. Alexander Lingas leads Cappella Romana in an intrepid exploration of Cypriot music in both Byzantine and Western styles, including refined ars subtilior music composed for the Royal Court of Cyprus (c. 1308-1432) from the manuscript J.II.9 housed at the University of Turin.

2015 Concert Series:

Seattle

Subscribe: Seattle
Single Tickets available August 1st.

Friday, 13 Nov. 2015, 7:30pm
Blessed Sacrament

Portland

Subscribe: Portland
Single Tickets available August 1st.

Saturday, 14 Nov. 2015, 7:30pm
Trinity Episcopal Cathedral


Sunday, 15 Nov. 2015, 2:30pm
St. Mary’s Cathedral

Cyprus Recording Rehearsals

cyprusrecordingrehearsals2

Enjoy some photos from our rehearsals as we prepare to record our Cyprus: Greek East & Latin West program this week:

Also, enjoy a look back at our 2008 Cyprus rehearsals:

Cyprus: Greek East & Latin West

To this day, the island of Cyprus stands at a crossroads between East and West. Alexander Lingas leads Cappella Romana in an intrepid exploration of Cypriot music in both Byzantine and Western styles, including refined ars subtilior music composed for the Royal Court of Cyprus (c. 1308-1432) from the manuscript J.II.9 housed at the University of Turin.

2015 Concert Series:

Seattle

Subscribe: Seattle
Single Tickets available August 1st.

Friday, 13 Nov. 2015, 7:30pm
Blessed Sacrament

Portland

Subscribe: Portland
Single Tickets available August 1st.

Saturday, 14 Nov. 2015, 7:30pm
Trinity Episcopal Cathedral


Sunday, 15 Nov. 2015, 2:30pm
St. Mary’s Cathedral

Now Playing on YouTube — Maximilian Steinberg: Passion Week

Steinberg: Passion Week

Listen to our new Maximilian Steinberg: Passion Week recording on YouTube!

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Minnesota Public Radio Features Passion Week!

Steinberg: Passion Week

Steinberg: Passion WeekClassical MPR (Minnesota Public Radio) is featuring recordings for Holy Week, and Thursday will be broadcasting our Passion Week recording on Thursday, April 2 at 10am(Central)/8am (Pacific)! Bookmark www.classicalmpr.org today to stream the broadcast!

The name of Maximilian Steinberg (1883-1946) will be a new one to almost all music lovers. As this release from the ensemble Cappella Romana shows, he’s a worthy member of the great Russian choral tradition.

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AllMusic Reviews Good Friday In Jerusalem

Good Friday In Jerusalem: Medieval Byzantine Chant from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Good Friday In Jerusalem: Medieval Byzantine Chant from the Church of the Holy SepulchreAllMusic.com’s James Manheim has a new review for our Good Friday In Jerusalem release!

“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. … Recommended not only for those planning a trip to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, but to anyone curious about Byzantine chant in general.” —James Manheim, AllMusic

Read the full review at www.allmusic.com

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