Jean Hanelle, Graindelavoix, Björn Schmelzer - Cypriot Vespers

Published Saturday 7th January 2017
Jean Hanelle, Graindelavoix, Björn Schmelzer - Cypriot Vespers
Jean Hanelle, Graindelavoix, Björn Schmelzer - Cypriot Vespers

STYLE: World
RATING 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8
OUR PRODUCT CODE: 164054-25124
LABEL: Glossa Platinum GCDP32112

Reviewed by Steven Whitehead

I have never heard anything quite like this release of a cappella music performed by the Belgium ensemble Graindelavoix, as always directed by Björn Schmelzer. The pieces, marked by a moving beauty, with one female and eight male singers, results in another of their peculiar and intriguing soundscapes that takes the listener somewhere unexpected. My first response was to label this as Orthodox music with its typical bass drone but it is neither Greek nor Russian as the flavour is more Hebrew or Arabic, reflecting the unique history of the island of Cyprus. The little-known composer Jean Hanelle (c 1380-c 1436) was a professional musician at Cambrai Cathedral and possibly later a teacher of Guillaume Dufay, who spent more than 20 years from 1411 onwards at the French court of Lusignan in Nicosia, Cyprus, a stay which involved him becoming the chapel master there. According to music scholars, Hanelle was the composer of a cycle of Magnificat-antiphons - the so called 'O'-antiphons traditionally performed during the last week of Advent - found in an Italian codex and included in this new production. Both the original plainchant and the Hanelle antiphons are presented in a series of nine pairs, between which the ensemble also performs an appropriate and context-setting selection of Maronite and Byzantine chants. The CD booklet comes with an interview with Björn Schmelzer carried out by Anne-Kathryn Olsen, a selection of late 19th-century photographs taken in Cyprus by John Thomson, and the first English translation of the antiphons, made by Jeannine De Landtsheer from the University of Leuven. While this is certainly a scholarly project it is also very listenable if you are prepared to set aside your musical preconceptions. While the singing is outstanding I would classify the release as "World Music" rather than "Choral" as listeners expecting a traditional Western vespers service will get a shock when they hear this.

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

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