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

Cappella Romana, Alexander Lingas
Cappella Romana CR413CD

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]lexander Lingas, in collaboration with Ioannis Arvanitis, is fortunate in being able to reify his archival researches into Medieval Byzantine chant by means of Cappella Romana’s fine musical skills and their recording team. In his booklet he draws attention to the ritual use in Byzantine Jerusalem of shrines associated with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He describes the elements of the Holy Sepulchre cathedral complex built on the accepted site of the crucifixion and entombment, an atrium incorporating the hill of Golgotha and a rotunda over Christ’s tomb, and cites the diary of a late fourth century pilgrim, Egeria, who refers to readings, prayers and psalmody performed at historically appropriate locations. Continuing the idea of spatial performance, he depicts the nocturnal start of the Jerusalem Passion Office on the Mount of Olives, the processions of worshippers to shrines such as Gethsemane, and the assembly in the atrium of the church, with specific chants, reading and hymns relating to these locations.

All this ritual once performed in space with the participation of celebrants must now be compressed onto the tracks of a CD and heard in the confines of a home. Only imagination and memories of Greek Orthodox services and processions could transform these tracks from music to chant enacted spatially in the presence of worshippers. Yet taken as a whole, the intensity of the singing and the vocal techniques do not allow the mind to wander into ecclesiastical reminiscences. Initially we may admire the poetry of the words, clearly pronounced but sensitively and powerfully translated in the booklet, though hardly matched by the music in any programmatic sense. Then, as if we might be thinking the considerable potentialities of monophonic chorus and drone were exhausted, we are surprised by even more heartfelt drama and striking solos. In all, we can rejoice that these rites are preserved from a Holy Land now surrounded by architectural, human and cultural destruction.

Diana Maynard

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