1 FEBRUARY 2008
Directed by Constantinos Angelidis
‘EPIPHANY’, A CONCERT OF BYZANTINE MUSIC
Sung by the ‘Tropos’ Byzantine Choir
By Sotirios K. Despotis, musicologist – composer
One of the most meticulous and impressive performances was given by the ‘Tropos’ Byzantine Choir led by the first cantor and teacher of the Greek cantor’s art Mr Constantinos Angelidis on Friday, 4 January, in the hall of the ‘Friends of Music’ at the Athens Concert Hall, with ecclesiastical hymns from the feast of the Epiphany.
A demanding programme which included compositions by: Matthaios Vatopedinos, Iakovos Protopsaltes, Petros Bereketis, Petros Lampadarios, Ioannis Protopsaltes, Georgios of Crete, and Georgios Vinakis was interpreted with complete success, and in this way presented a small part of the vast musical wealth which is typical of our tradition of chant.
The exceptionally interesting interpretative approaches which were applied to the ecclesiastical chants in conjunction with the recital of direction of a Byzantine church choir given by Mr Angelidis took us along familiar as well as unfamiliar pathways of a knowledge of our country’s music, demonstrating to us with great precision all the morphological features which characterise the musical material of each mathema in its individual musical space-time.
The alternation of the soloist with the choir, as we heard in the Communion Hymn of the feast, a typical effect which we encounter very frequently in mathemata of the Papadike, the appearance on the stage of two youngsters – a trust of the greatest importance for the future of our tradition of the cantor’s art – who took the part of canonarches for the poetic text from the sticheron idiomelon of the Lite ‘He who is clothed in light as in a garment‘, as well as the texts from chants of Matins of the Epiphany, the antiphonal setting with the division of the choir into two semi-choirs in chants such as the kathismata and the VIIIth Ode of the two canons of the Epiphany with the Megalynaria, and the superb monody of Mr Nikolaos Georgiou, who interpreted the troparion ‘When you were baptised in the Jordan, Lord … ‘ as that is sung during the veneration of the brethren at the Great Blessing, a composition by Matthaios Vatopedinos, served to stress and to remind us of some of the many technical characteristics of chant which mark our tradition of church music.
The whole occasion was divided into two parts. In the first, the kontakion for the eve of the feast ‘In the streams this day … ‘ was sung, and it was with this that the choir made its impressive and sudden entrance into the hall. This was followed by the Dismissal Hymn of the feast – ‘When you were baptised in Jordan, Lord‘, a composition proposed by Matthaios Vatopedinos, the melodic – rhythmic characteristics of which put it in the type of kalophonia. This was followed by the sticheron idiomelon from the Lite of the feast, ‘He who is clothed in light as in a garment‘ in the fourth sticherarikon mode, kathismata of the feast, and the sticheron idiomelon from Matins of Epiphany ‘All things this day …‘. The programme of the first part concluded with the VIIIth Ode of the two canons of the Epiphany with the Megalynaria.
The second part consisted of the following: the sticheron idiomelon ‘The true light has shown itself … ‘, in a setting of Matthaios Vatopedinos, the Doxastikon of the Ainoi ‘The waters of the Jordan …‘, from the Doxastarion of Iakovos Protopsaltes, a setting which was first heard here in a concert hall in this rendering by the ‘Tropos’ Byzantine Choir, the Communion Hymn of the feast ‘The saving grace of God for all mankind has appeared‘, set by Petros Bereketis, a work which was also being heard for the first time in a concert of ecclesiastical music, a Polyeleos for the feast of the Epiphany, as set by the first cantor Georgios Vinakis of Chios, and, finally, the well-known kratema in the first mode, an inspired creation of Georgios of Crete.
The variety of the interpretative approaches which have been applied to the musical theses of the mathemata, the ways in which the phenomenon of entasis – lysis of the melodic tensions in the musical phrases was handled in sound terms, the processes by which the climaxes of the chant were created, the homogeneity of the volume of the sound, the premeditated transpositions of the tonal centres, the very discreet, but at the same time very liturgical, presence of the isokratema line in relation to the evolution of the melody, and the melodious rendering of all the ecclesiastical chants – these are some of the factors which contributed to the success of the occasion.
Even though it is difficult, and probably unfair, to pick out one or some of the chants which were heard, we cannot omit a mention, albeit a brief one, of the well-known troparion of the feast of the Epiphany ‘When you were baptised in the Jordan, Lord … ‘, a chant set by Matthaios Vatopedinos of Ephesus, and of the sticheron idiomelon ‘The true Light has shown itself … ‘, a work by the same composer. These compositions serve not only to draw attention to the talent of Matthaios Vatopedinos, which by means of this concert has been made known even more to the community of cantors, and more generally to the world of music-lovers, but to be superb examples of the ways by which the musical development of the poetic texts of these mathemata has been achieved.
In hearing, and then rapidly analysing these two proposals for settings, we are astonished by the means by which Matthaios Vatopedinos develops the musical material of the mathemata. In the case of the first of these, we note the process by which the musical space of the mathema by means of slow, artful and strongly melismatic movements expands to the point of climax of the line of the chant, which is stressed by a series of marked rhythmic changes. The whole melodic development is emphasised by the frequent skilful changes in the modes, a feature which chromatically enriches the chant. In the second case, we were taken by surprise by the sudden transposition of the line of the chant effected by seven voices in the upper Pa, thus opening up the musical space of the mathema from the very beginning. Then a series of melodic transpositions, such as, for example, to an antiphonal agia in lower Di, to varys, to the second plagal mode of the ‘hard’ sound, etc., also succeeded from the point of view of quality of sound in enriching the musical material of the mathema, while at the same time stressing in this way words from the poetic text.
I think that everyone who was present on Friday evening in the great hall of the Athens Concert Hall experienced at close quarters the majesty which lies concealed in our heritage of cantorship. It was not a matter of chance that as I was leaving the building, I heard a minister of the Most High confide to his wife that what he had heard in there helped him to pray …