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Glory of Orthodox Chant

available at Amazon
The Glory of Byzantium, Byzantine Choir of Greece/L. Angelopoulos, Melodi Choir/Divna Ljubojević (released on April 11, 2006)
available at Amazon
Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Byzantine Choir of Greece/L. Angelopoulos (released in 1994)
The last time I reviewed Byzantine chant was a live concert by the Romeiko Ensemble at St. Matthew's Cathedral almost three years ago. What this tells me is that I am not listening to enough Byzantine chant, a deficit that I have been remedying with a new recording from two specialist choirs, alternating odd and even tracks, the Byzantine Choir of Greece and the Melodi Choir.

Both groups feature their respective soloist against an underlying choral drone and in alternation with responses. Lycourgos Angelopoulos and the Byzantine Choir of Greece, based in Athens, present the much more traditional all-male sound, with the microtonal bends and drones that Angelopoulos imported to Western chant when he worked with Marcel Pérès and Ensemble Organum on some of the best recordings of liturgical chant ever created. The Byzantine Choir of Greece, or rather the Greek Byzantine Choir as it has also been known in English, had a well-received recording of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, too. Once you hear that sound, it is hard to get it out of your head: the microtonal ornaments in track 8, "Then He shall speak to them in His anger," will blow your mind if your normal sound world is the chromatic scale. Angelopoulos sings his solo sections with the authority of John the Baptist, and the men of his choir, fixed over the immutable ison, or drone, have a most authentic liturgical sound.

Lycourgos Angelopoulos, director of Byzantine Choir of GreeceDivna Ljubojević, or just Divna, director of Melodi Choir

The first sound we hear on this disc, however, is Serbian singer Divna Ljubojević with the Melodi Choir. This was a gutsy move on her part to join with the most revered performers of Orthodox chant, and unfortunately she sounds hopelessly lightweight by comparison. Here as elsewhere, Ljubojević (b. 1970) goes only by her own first name -- Divna, like Madonna or Cher -- and that affectation is indeed a sign that her performances are tinged by a pop ethos. The tone of this voice is too precious, suited more to a Disney standard, although her early training was with nuns in Serbia. There is nothing wrong with updating this music, especially since so much Byzantine liturgical music was not notated until the post-medieval period, sometimes as recently as the 19th century. In fact, the Melodi Choir has recorded three new pieces by Ljubojević herself, most of it instantly forgettable. It's still pretty enough listening, but it is out of place in alternation with Angelopoulos's group. My only other complaint is the completely insufficient liner notes, which have no texts or translations and no source information, something that largely reduces the possible function of this recording from musicological interest to meditative aid. For that purpose, the even-numbered tracks on this CD are very well suited.

Jade M2-36161


Akimon Azuki said...

This is a very interesting release, thanks for bringing it to our attention- but the dual nature of it... I will admit I am rather put off by Divna's voice and her style of singing. This is one album that can hopefully be purchased piecemeal on iTunes. I have most of Peres' albums and one of my favourite records of all is the Chant Byzantin by another Harmonia Mundi star, sister Marie Keyrouz.
Venturing into different chromatic scales can be daunting for our Western ears- especially in certain pieces of Arabic music when it takes a while to get over the feeling that something's just not in tune- but it's definitely worth it.

Washington Cube said...

I used to blast this stuff on my cd player driving down North Capitol Street through the corner boys throwing drug hand signals. It was a nice balance. Oh yeah...good write-up.

Charles T. Downey said...

Akimon and Cube, thanks for the great comments.

Anonymous said...

I completely disagree with what you wrote about DIVNA.
"suited more to a Disney standard"... How can you dare? So easy to write it down. Sorry but your words obviously lack of measure. Have you listened to all her recordings? Her voice is a pure diamond. And she does a lot more for faith or meditation than all the boring male choirs.

Charles T. Downey said...

Bertrand, no, I have not listened to all of her recordings. I have no plans to do so. Thanks for sharing your opinion.

Anonymous said...

I'm wanting to buy a CD of Byzantine chant, and I'm still trying to decide which one to get. The Greek Byzantine Choir's Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom seems to be the most authentic, but I was considering The Glory of Byzantium as well. One question though, are all the tracks by Divna Ljubojević in Greek? I could tell at least one was, but with my limited knowledge it was hard to tell.

eugenionuț said...

« L’âme est en nous ce qui cherche, demande et finalement choisit. » Divna

« L’une des voix les plus pures que j’aie jamais entendue ! »
Lycourgos Angelopoulos, directeur du Chœur byzantin de Grèce

I hope you don't need any translation.