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Close Voices from Afar.

Close Vocies from Afar

Schola Gregoriana Pragensis--chant, Gyosan-ry_ Tendai Sh_my_--chant and traditional Buddhist liturgical percussion (mokugyo drum, gongs and nyo-hachi cymbals, shakudyho rattle stick and sounding stones). Production: Text: Cz., Eng., Ger., Fr. Recorded: 11/2006, Chapel of the Holy Trinity of the former Augustinian Monastery (now the District Ethnographical Museum), Ceska Lipa. released: 2007. TT: 68:31. DDD. 1 CD Sony 82876873042 (Sony BMG).


This recording--made following the extraordinary joint concert given by the Schola Gregoriana Pragensis choir and the Ohara Gyosan shomyo kenkyu-kai monks's choir in the Prague Church of St. Anne in November 2006--is an exceptionally successful manifestation of the attempt to deepen inter-faith dialogue. For the director of the Schola Gregoriana and the key initiator of this usual project David Eben (see CM 3/2004) such dialogue is "one of the most urgent tasks of our day". Another of the initiators of this exceptional meeting of two cultures is the leading specialist on traditional Japanese culture Robin He_man--here tucked away inconspicuously as the author of the brilliant erudite commentary on the Japanese element of the recording. With his charisma, energy and practical experience (including many years of practising Buddhism of the Tendai school in the celebrated monastery under Hiei Mountain in Kyoto), inspired and helped to arrange not only this particular meeting, but all the previous meetings between the Schola Gregoriana and Tendai monks in Prague and Japan. The idea of presenting the traditions of both Gregorian chant and the Japanese Buddhist liturgical chant known as shomyo on one album is not new. For example the CD Devotion--Gregorian Chant Meets Buddhist Chant (Victor VICG-5393) made back in 1996, presented the Italian Cantori Gregoriani and Tendai Shomyo Kenkyukai in similar counterpoint (even including a parallel layering in the final track, Agnus dei-Shichisan). This does not detract, however, from the pioneering originality of design and excellent standard of performance evident in the recording from David Eben and his friends, which takes the idea much further and enhances its impact. In the solo Shoten Kango no san (track 2) and the immediately following Alleluia Magnus Dominus (track 3) we are already given a very vivid impression of the characteristic differences in work with the vocal melodic line. This is the key element, dictating the fundamental difference in the musical language of the two liturgical traditions. In contrast to the diatonic, perfectly unison and purely vocal line of Gregorian chant or early polyphony, shomyo chant exploits a very flexible intonation in slow glissandos. Furthermore, this is realised with a markedly expressive voice timbre with traces of biphonic singing, with elements of heterophonic blurring in choral passages, sometimes accompanied by traditional Buddhist percussion instruments. Immediately after this, in the section Sorai Kada / Ps. 50. Miserere mei Deus (track 4) we have a chance to hear in solos and then in choral arrangement the extraordinarily effective parallel combination of these sliding melodics with the European psalmody. We then encounter a marvellous contrast in the form of the European archaic polyphonic pieces included on the CD, such as conductus Mundus a munditia (track 5) or antiphon Sedit Angelus--versus Crucifixum in carne (track 11). The album makes its culminating and convincing point with the very cultivated and painstakingly produced layering of the two chant traditions, when the psalmodic recitation of the Lotus sutra by the Buddhist monks, underlined by the striking of the mokugyo drum (literally "wooden fish"), is at the same time a drone for the cantio Ave virgo gloriosa (track 10), and when the glissando sliding melody of the solo chant Amida kjo is integrated with the austere, ascetically returning entrances of the Kyrie IV (track 12).

To sum up: An original idea with real potential, outstanding musical design, top performances, marvellous technical quality, first-class erudite information in the booklet! Close Voices from Afar looks like a practically unbeatable candidate for album of the year. All honour to it!
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Author:Matousek, Vlastislav
Publication:Czech Music
Date:Apr 1, 2007
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