Hymns of Kassianí in Gramophone!

The August 2021 Issue of Gramophone Magazine features a wonderful new review for Cappella Romana’s Hymns of Kassianí recording!

“The booklet includes Lingas’s excellent, lengthy background essay on Kassianí, her reception and the historical context of medieval Byzantine chant, along with the original Greek texts and translations.

Recognised among the pre-eminent interpreters of Eastern Orthodox chant, Cappella Romana are ideally suited to the task, combining deep familiarity with the tradition and advances in scholarship relating to historic performance practice (involving, for example, the use of drones, ornamentation and rhythmic articulation and countervailing distortions resulting from the Western lens of Gregorian chant).

What makes this album so remarkable, in addition to its focus on the first extant music known to be by a female composer, is the genuinely transportive effect of the a cappella singing, which varies among male, female and mixed-choir settings for the 15-voice ensemble and is captured on surround-sound SACD. Sung with such focus, balance and clarity, Kassianí’s time-defying flow of melodies imparts serene glimpses into eternity.”

—Thomas May, Gramophone

See the full review in the August issue of Gramophone and on gramophone.co.uk

Cappella Romana returns to the recording studio this month!

Heaven and Earth, with John Tavener’s Ikon of Light.

Guest post by Richard Barrett, Artistic Director of The Saint John of Damascus Society

In July 2012, nine years ago this month, my friend Dr. Harold Sabbagh and I had initial conversations about a spark of an idea. He was infectiously enthusiastic about CERN’s then-recent confirmation of the existence of the Higgs boson.

He then asked me, “How can we produce a unique musical and artistic work of art that both draws inspiration from humanity’s legacy of scientific inquiry and discovery while also having an Eastern Orthodox voice, perspective, and beauty?”

The Vesperal psalm, Psalm 103 (LXX numbering), was an obvious framework for the concept. This psalm celebrates creation, micro- and macrocosmic.

In October 2013, we brought together six contrasting Orthodox composers to Bloomington, Indiana: Matthew Arndt, John Michael Boyer, Alexander Khalil, Kurt Sander, Richard Toensing of blessed memory, and Tikey Zes. We asked them to rise to a very specific challenge. Each set a section of Psalm 103 in his own distinct musical idiom while still producing a single piece of music as a unified whole. These idioms included Byzantine chant, Russian polyphony, Georgian chant, and contemporary American choral writing.

In June 2015, the composers completed the score, titled Heaven and Earth: A Song of Creation. Directed by composer John Michael Boyer in October 2018, Cappella Romana premiered the work to standing ovations.

We intended to perform Heaven and Earth in New York at the biennial American conference of the International Society for Orthodox Church Music in July 2020, and to record the piece immediately after.

As we all know, 2020 did not go as planned. Heaven and Earth remained a priority for Cappella Romana regardless. Our friend and close collaborator Vladimir Morosan at Musica Russica published the score. This lovely performing edition is now available to all. We then dedicated ourselves to making the recording as soon as it was feasible.

Now, the sessions for Heaven and Earth will mark Cappella Romana’s return to in-person, vaccinated, unmasked, non-socially distanced music-making!

We are planning a fall release for the disc: the first post-COVID release on Cappella Records.

As the chief advocate and custodian of the project’s vision, I am deeply humbled by care and commitment that everybody has devoted to the work: John Michael Boyer’s thorough preparation of the score, Mark Powell’s and Alexander Lingas’ generous and collaborative spirit, Grammy-winning producer Blanton Alspaugh’s handling of its sonic challenges, and the sheer skill of the singers in bringing this rich stylistic tapestry to life.

I am also honored by the confidence with which Mark, Alexander, and John chose to pair Heaven and Earth with Sir John Tavener’s Ikon of Light. Tavener was a pioneer and forerunner without whom Heaven and Earth could not exist, and I am thrilled to experience the pairing.

A final thought: Much has happened since 2012 when we conceived The Psalm 103 Project, and our world has changed even more since the premiere of Heaven and Earth in 2018. However, changed world or no, the project’s vision is as relevant now as it ever was.

In the psalmist’s beautiful words as rendered by our dear departed friend Fr. Ephrem Lash, “God reveals the majesty of His divinely created order to us.”

In this sense, science is nothing less than the methodology through which we can learn about the world God made. This is a lesson we can all take to heart after the challenges and the discoveries of the last two years, and apply it just as well to the stunning images of the M87 black hole as to life-saving medical research. The beautiful work of our composers provides a sublime guide to Psalm 103 that we hope will help people reach that understanding.

American Record Guide Reviews Hymns of Kassianí

The July/August 2021 issue of American Record Guide features a review of Cappella Romana’s new Hymns of Kassianí recording:

“This is a recording I have long awaited. While the name of the Orthodox nun Kassia (or Kassiani, c.810-c.895) has slowly entered scholarly studies of music in the Middle Ages, her reputation has suffered from the apparent prejudice in most surveys of music in medieval Europe that has ignored discussing the rich and unique Byzantine musical traditions. The recordings by Cappella Romana have done an important service in making Orthodox chant better known. … As is now expected from Cappella Romana, the performances are polished, and the booklet also contains complete texts and translations. This is one of the most significant recordings of medieval music to appear recently. I hope it will open both ears and minds to Kassia’s richly imaginative musical voice.”

—Charles E Brewer, American Record Guide

See the full review in the July/August 2021 issue of American Record Guide.

Letter from Mark Powell, Executive Director

Hymns of Kassianí

Introduction to Cappella Romana’s 30th Anniversary Season

Dear Friends and Supporters,

In late winter we usually are ready to share our next season with you, but given how this year has proceeded, we decided to wait until now to make any announcement.

Over the last year, we have not lain dormant. Cappella Romana’s recording label Cappella Records has had a great year, especially with Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia, which ran on the Billboard Chart for 44 weeks. I hope you were able to engage with our online explorations, including a Christmas program that was seen around the world by over 60,000 people, and our recent webinars on topics around race, gender, style, and language in sacred music.

And our latest release Hymns of Kassianí continues to receive rave reviews, including a recent review in the UK that called it “the current reference for this rather special repertoire” (MusicWeb International).

We have taken time to listen and reflect, create and plan for a future ahead.

Now that more vaccinations are being administered and cities return to low-risk categories, I am pleased to announce our plans for next season, Cappella Romana’s 30th Anniversary Season: RESURRECTION.

This is a year to bring music back to life!

We will begin our 30th year with recording projects in the summer (all singers will be vaccinated!), followed by our third appearance at the Utrecht Early Music Festival in the Netherlands, where we will perform Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia as the festival’s finale concert in the TivoliVredenburg Concert Hall.

Our Northwest series will begin in late September with A COVID Requiem, featuring music for funerals from the Orthodox tradition, music that gives hope after a traumatic year and half behind us. We’ll be reaching out to you to ask you for names of family and friends who passed away due to COVID, so that we sing this program in their memory.

In October, the ensemble has been invited to perform before His All Holiness Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch on a tour at the University of Notre Dame, where His All Holiness will be recognized for his work on the Environment with an honorary doctorate. We will perform Robert Kyr’s A Time for Life, inspired by His All Holiness; just before we will give a tour send-off concert in Portland of the same.

Postponed from this current season, we will present the stunningly beautiful Liturgy in English by Benedict Sheehan in December, the recording of which by the Saint Tikhon Choir (on our label Cappella Records) continues to receive accolades.

For January 2022, Alexander Lingas has been working steadily on a newly researched project of Greek and Latin music for an auspicious occasion from Christmas 1400: The visit of Manuel II, the Byzantine (East Roman) Emperor to the court of Henry IV in London. No other ensemble in the world has explored this meeting from musical perspective, making this a world premiere program. We know that Manuel brought with him cantors and priests to sing daily services: imagine medieval Byzantine chant sung in London over 600 years ago! We will record this program, A Byzantine Emperor in King Henry’s Court, for future release. (Yes, with a friendly nod to Mark Twain’s 1889 novel!).

In February, Cappella Romana will perform Arvo Pärt‘s largest a cappella work, the rapturous Kanon Pokajanen (Kanon of Repentance). As it turns out, this was the subject of my own master’s thesis many years ago, so I’m particularly thrilled with this program, and I expect you will be too!

After some more recording projects and a tour to the Midwest, we will conclude the Northwest series with From Constantinople to California, an intoxicating mix of Byzantine chants and choral music from a new school of Greek composers working in California who infused it with Renaissance style and Hollywood flair.

So many of you continued to support us during this year when traditional programming wasn’t possible. We are so grateful for your support during this difficult time.

Cappella Romana is poised to resurrect our voices this coming season, to serve you again with extraordinary experiences of music of beauty and power from East and West.

Music director Alexander Lingas and I look forward to seeing you in person very soon. Stay tuned by checking back at our website for updates.

Yours always,

Mark Powell
Executive Director
Cappella Romana

MusicWeb International Reviews Hymns of Kassianí

Hymns of Kassianí

Dominy Clements reviews Hymns of Kassianí for MusicWeb International:

“much to appreciate in this substantial recording of Kassianí’s music… Cappella Romana is a leading vocal ensemble that is best known for its performances of Byzantine chant, and you have the feeling that you are in safe hands in the way they bring Kassianí’s ancient manuscripts to life… Cappella Romana sings with a weighty devotional passion which, while avoiding histrionics, prevents this listening experience from becoming passive meditation. This spaciously recorded SACD disc is refreshingly free of pretensions and special effects and, as far as I can tell, is the current reference for this rather special repertoire.”

—Dominy Clements, MusicWeb International

See the full review on musicweb-international.com

InfoDad review for Hymns of Kassianí

Family-focused review site, InfoDad, reviews our Hymns of Kassianí as a “revelatory” release:

“The excellent and expressive voices of Cappella Romana are ideally suited to introduce the music of Kassianí to a wider audience, which is just what they do in a new recording on the ensemble’s own label. Under the sensitive and knowing direction of Alexander Lingas, the members of Cappella Romana present 10 selections of Kassianí’s music for Christmas, the Lenten Triodion, and Holy Week. ncluded is her best-known hymn, known in English as “Lord, the woman found in many sins,” which is chanted each year at matins on Holy Wednesday. Like other works on this revelatory SACD, this hymn requires a very wide vocal range as well as sensitivity to the slow and sorrowful mood it evokes. … The grace, beauty and stylistic clarity of these works come through in genuinely uplifting fashion in these beautifully balanced performances… For those willing to open their ears and spirits to this material, the recording will bring a high level of peace and contentment, and a feeling of connection to something beyond everyday experience – exactly as Kassianí surely intended nearly 1,200 years ago.”

InfoDad

See the full review on InfoDad

TheaterByte Gives Hymns of Kassianí Five Stars

TheaterByte’s Lawrence Devoe gives our new Hymns of Kassianí a Five-Star review!

“Having had the otherworldly experience when I reviewed Cappella Romana’s breakthrough recording of The Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia last year, I looked forward to their next installment in the Byzantine chant discography. This now arrives in the new release Hymns of Kassiani and represents one of the most important new recordings to reach my disc player in the past few years. … Hymns of Kassiani represents another recording triumph for the Cappella Records label. This kind of music is not often heard outside of Eastern Orthodox churches and it was a privilege and a pleasure to experience it in the comfortable environment of my own home. Highest recommendation.”

Lawrence Devoe, TheaterByte

See the full review on Theaterbyte.com

Robert Hugill Gives Four Stars to Hymns of Kassianí

Robert Hugill gives a Four-Star Review to Hymns of Kassianí on his Planet Hugill blog:

“much of the music on this disc is expansive, you need time to sit and allow the chant to expand and fill your consciousness. The music moves between the solid chant to more florid, flowing sections, the result is imaginative and I find it immensely appealing. … the performances are seductively intriguing. I have to confess that I know very little about Byzantine chant, but I love the sound world and this disc has introduced my to a new voice. … This is the first volume in what is planned as a series covering recordings of all of Kassiani’s surviving works. Personally, I can’t wait for the next instalment. … This music is very present and requires active listening, but the results do transport you to the sound-world of another era.”

—Robert Hugill, Planet Hugill

See the full review on PlanetHugill.com

Audiophile Audition Gives Five Stars to Hymns of Kassianí

Audiophile Audition gives a five-star review to Cappella Romana’s Hymns of Kassianí recording:

“Kassia is especially known for one particular piece, the Hymn of Kassiani, so-called because of its placement in the orthros (matins) service of Holy Wednesday. It is a masterly composition of great pathos, commemorating the harlot who anointed the feet of Jesus and washed his hair with her tears, found in the gospel of Matthew. … But Kassia may have nearly 50 hymns in the repertory, with some attributed to other composers. This disc seeks to correct the perception that her only contribution is this holy week effort… The music itself has undergone many changes over the years according to the time and place of its use, but the beauty and obvious devotional qualities are very easy to apprehend. Those interested in something liturgically unique and different from the multitudinous bad recordings of Gregorian chant will find this refreshing and eye-opening. Kassia is definitely a composer to be reckoned with. Cappella Romana continues to turn out sensational recordings that are state-of-the-art in sound quality. This one has breadth, depth, warmth, and a phenomenal surround quality resonating with a physically palpable and penetrating effect that places you in the middle of an acoustically marvelous church. Alexander Lingas offers excellent, in-depth notes on many aspects of the life of Kassia and her music, and directs the ensemble (men, women, both together) in a performance of clarity and technical wizardry. This is a landmark recording that will still retain its importance for many years to come.

—Steven Ritter, Audiophile Audition

See the full review on AudAud.com

Classical-Modern Music Review For Hymns of Kassianí

Hymns of Kassianí

Grego-Applegate Edwards has a grand new review and recommendation for our Hymns of Kassianí recording:

“It is rather exciting to me that the Early Music Cappella Romana has released an entire album of the Hymns of Kassiani (Capella Records CR422 SACD). … This is meant to be a first volume in a series that will record all of Kassiani’s works. … The SACD hybrid contains high quality two-channel and 5.0 Surround mixes. The sound is excellent. Cappella Romana gives us excellent, state-of-the-art performances of chants from male and mixed choirs, including two versions of her well-loved hymn for Holy Week. They are beautifully realized under the direction of Alexander Lingas. … I strongly recommend this album for anyone seeking to experience an important element of historical lifeways in music. It is ravishing, invariably, and quite refreshing if you are not familiar. Either way this one is a milestone.”

—Grego Applegate-Edwards, Classical-Modern Music Review

See the full review