The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom by Tikey Zes

Dr. Zes first published in 1991 The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom recorded on this disc. In 1996 he reissued it in an expanded edition that he dedicated to Cappella Romana, which had presented the concert premiere of the work in 1992. It is a collection of choral settings intended for Orthodox liturgical use and, like many other such publications (for example, Tchaikovsky’s All-Night Vigil, op. 52), includes more music than would ever be required for a single service. One and, in some cases, two choral settings are provided for all the ordinary chants and responses of the Divine Liturgy. It also includes music for services celebrated by a bishop, the Liturgy of St. Basil, and numerous texts proper to particular days or seasons. (Two older items that Dr. Zes incorporated into the 1996 Liturgy—the Cherubic Hymn #1 and the Sunday Communion Verse #2—may be heard, respectively, on Cappella Romana’s discs When Augustus Reigned and Tikey Zes: Choral Works.)

The present disc offers the music required for a celebration of the Divine Liturgy by a priest and deacon on the Second Sunday after Pentecost. The Greek text sung here is—with the exception of the dialogue preceding the Alleluiarion, which is fully restored to its ancient form—that of The Divine Liturgy of Our Father Among the Saints St John Chrysostom, 2nd ed. (London: Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain, 2011). The space limitations of the CD format required us to make a number of abbreviations to portions of the service not set to music by Dr. Zes. The Prokeimenon (Gradual) and Apostle (Epistle) reading are thus omitted, as are the Litanies of the Catechumens and the Faithful following the Gospel, and the bulk of the Nicene Creed. In addition, the presidential prayers of the celebrant are generally limited to their concluding exclamations, a usage that prevails in churches where these prayers are read silently. (The complete text of the Divine Liturgy may be heard on Cappella Romana’s 2-disc recording The Divine Liturgy of Our Father Among the Saints John Chrysostom in English in Byzantine Chant.)

For a listener approaching this recording from the perspective of the Greek American choral traditions surveyed above, Dr. Zes’s 1996 Liturgy will probably seem like a radical departure from prevailing norms. Although the music often echoes Byzantine chant in Modes 1, Plagal 1 and, less often, Plagal 4, the vast majority of its melodies are original. Indeed, only three of the movements recorded on the present disc are based on pre-existing melodies. The Apolytikion of the Resurrection presents a traditional chant with some rhythmic and melodic modifications, while the Introit “Come, let us worship” sets only the first half of the chant before reprising the original tune heard earlier as the refrain to the Second Antiphon. The only melody by Sakellarides occurs in the Communion Hymn “Of Your Mystical Supper,” which is a Greek retroversion of the English setting previously recorded by Cappella Romana on the disc Tikey Zes: Choral Works. Musical unity is provided instead through various formal devices. One such device is the recurrence of invertible counterpoint (exchange of vocal parts) in the antiphons, Trisagion and Communion Verse. Another occurs in the Litany of Peace, the opening unison melody of which is subsequently heard in different voices as its polyphonic texture builds.

Despite the paucity of recognizable chant melodies, the 1996 Liturgy bears the marks of a composer long engaged with the traditions of Orthodox worship. Choral responses uttered in musical dialogue with the deacon or celebrant are, in keeping with their liturgical function, generally short, homophonic and unaccompanied. Vocal textures in antiphons and hymns are often sparse, consisting of one or two parts with organ accompaniment. Only at liturgically or textually significant points does the musical texture thicken as parts multiply in passages of homophonic declamation or dense counterpoint (examples of the latter may be heard in the musical evocations of angelic worship of the Trisagion, Cherubic Hymn, Sanctus (“Holy, Holy, Holy”), Megalynarion and Communion Verse). Cumulatively opulent in its variety, level of difficulty and ecstatic polyphonic climaxes, this Liturgy achieves a balance of splendor with restraint that is, its inculturated musical idiom notwithstanding, thoroughly Byzantine.

— Alexander Lingas

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