Disc Review: Voices of Jerusalem: Eastern Church Music

This rich, rare and diverse album documents the authentic sacred music of Jerusalem's many Easter Churches.

Voices of Jerusalem: Eastern Church Music Recorded by IBA Directed and annotated by Dr. Ury Eppstein Produced by Largo 5151, Germany The Western branch of Christian liturgical music, popularly known as Gregorian Chant, stems from the Roman Catholic Church. Yet, it has received such enormous representation in books, articles, and recordings, that for most of the world's experts and laymen, it would appear to be the exclusive music of Christian worship. But what happened to the music of the Eastern Church? Does it have a repertoire? Where is it? The dearth of recordings of Eastern Chant in the West is perhaps due partly to the difficulties involved in penetrating the languages and cultures of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the byways of Africa, and the forbidding Arab world. Jerusalem in its unique position between East and West is a magnet for all faiths, and Voices of Jerusalem reflects their varied musical traditions. This rich, rare and diverse album documents the authentic sacred music of Jerusalem's many Easter Churches. It includes selections of chants, hymns, processionals, masses, and excerpts from the vespers services of the Greek-Orthodox, Armenian-Orthodox, Armenian-Catholic, Romanian-Orthodox, Syrian-Orthodox, Maronite, Ethiopian-Orthodox, Russian-Orthodox, Greek-Catholic and Roman-Catholic Churches. There is not a single Western-Latin selection in the lot. We hear individual clergy and laymen, priests and nuns, choirs of monks, accompanied and a cappella, intoning their sacred prayers in Armenian, Romanian, Greek, Arabic, Ghez, Slavonic, Russian, and even Hebrew. Sometimes their song is a hymn, patterned in isometric syllables, harmonized sweetly in parallel, consonant harmonies. These, more often than not, are the women's contributions. At other times, priests chant their praises to the Creator in bitter, raw sounds that stretch, twist, and turn in micro-tones around the single syllable of a Psalm. These authentic recordings were made on location in the cold, early hours of the morning between 1967 and 1983 by a crew from the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the National Sound Archives in the Jewish National University Library under the direction of Jerusalem Post music critic Dr. Ury Eppstein, who also documented the recordings with informative jacket notes. The durations of the 30 excerpts have been edited to about two or three minutes (plus or minus) each. This beautifully resonate disc takes us inside those massive and monumental stone churches, cathedrals and monasteries around Jerusalem to hear the voices behind the great wooden doors from which mysterious figures emerge and return in silence. This CD is perfect for anyone who appreciates the iconic achievements of Byzantine art.