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Hymns of Kassiani (Cappella Romana) (SACD Review)

REVIEW OVERVIEW

The Album
The Audio
The Supplements
Overall

SUMMARY

Another stunning vocal recital of Byzantine hymnography by Cappella Romana featuring the works of the earliest known female composer Kassiani(Kassia).

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.

Kassiani or Kassia was the first female composer of record and wrote hymns to be sung at a variety of religious occasions. To give you some perspective, Kassia (ca. 810-ca. 865) preceded the sanctified composer Hildegarde of Bingen by nearly 300 years. She was born in Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, to wealthy parents and, because she was a woman, her works were attributed to men. Kassia refused the marriage proposal of Byzantine Emperor Theophilos and, instead, founded an abbey and spent most of her adult life living there as its abbess, while writing her hymns.

This recording features the ancient music ensemble, Cappella Romana, a 15-member choral group led by Byzantine liturgical music scholar Alexander Lingas in a program of ten hymns:

  1. Hymns for Christmas
    1. Lamplighting Psalm, excerpt, Mode 2
    2. Stichera Prosomoia
    3. Other Prosomoia
    4. Doxastikon of Great Vespers of Christmas Da
  1.  Hymns from the Triodion and Holy Week
    1. Idiomelon from Great Vespers on the Eve of the Publican and the Pharisee
    2. Tetradion for Great and Holy Saturday, Odes 1 and 3
    3. Idiomelon from Matins for the Sunday of the Pharisee and the Publican
    4. Tetradion for Great and Holy Saturday, Odes 4 and 5
    5. From Great and Holy Wednesday at Matins
    6. Kalophonic Sticheron

The Audio

This group of nine men and six women were recorded at Portland, Oregon’s Madeleine Parish. The church features a high vaulted ceiling that makes the mixed voices literally float out toward the listeners. There is also considerable reverberation in the room, and this adds significantly to the ethereal quality of the chants in this recording, as do the continually resonating low voices of several of male singers. The Soundmirror team, headed by recording engineer John Newton and mixing and mastering engineer Mark Donahue, have clearly gotten the measure of the performance space and the singers and deliver a fabulous recreation of these ancient hymns.

Given the obvious advantages of the SACD multi-channel 5.0 layer of this disc, this would be my preferred way to experience this recording as it literally places the listener in the midst of a vast sea of sound.  My listening session with the two-channel DSD layer was also quite rewarding and nearly as atmospheric which should be good news for those listeners with standard CD players.  This program is also available in ten different high-resolution downloads ranging in formats from 44.1kHz/16-bit to DSD 64fs 5.0 Surround.

The Supplements

A 32-page program booklet presents a track listing, the history of Kassia and her hymnography and the versions of the hymns used in this recording, authored by Alexander Lingas, a selected bibliography, texts and English translations of the Greek polytonic hymns in the programs, brief biographies of the singers, and recording credits.

The Final Assessment

Hymns of Kassiani represents another recording triumph for the Cappella Records label. Although it was not recorded in the overwhelming Dolby Atmos audio format of its predecessor Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia, when I heard it on my surround sound system, I found it to be just as moving and spiritually vital. 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.


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Hymns of Kassiani is out on Hybrid Multi-Channel SACD on April 16, 2021 from Cappella Romana


  • Label: Cappella Records
  • Artist: Cappella Romana
  • Producer: Blanton Alspaugh | Sound Mirror
  • Run Time: 76 Mins.
  • Original MSRP: $19.99
  • Street Date: 16 April 2021
  • Audio Format: DSD 5.0 | DSD 2.0 | PCM 2.0
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