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GRAMOPHONE (03/1990)
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HMG 501315

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Reviewer: M.B.

Any visitor to Paris may have noticed a small church tucked in the shadow of Notre Dame: Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre. This is the parish church for Eastern rite Catholics living in Paris. The Choir provides ison - the supporting drone accompaniment - for this unique performance of Byzantine chant given by a nun from the Lebanon, Sister Marie Keyrouz. It is indeed, to hear a female cantor, let alone one the calibre of Sister Marie, who with all the art and knowledge of a professional, a full programme of exacting and elaborate ancient liturgical music. Her recital, sung in Greek and Arabic, includes chants for each day of Holy week, from Monday to Easter Sunday, each day having its own particular theme. On the Wednesday the central figure is Magdalene, the penitent woman, and the music is her highly-wrought prayer of contrition, her plea for mercy. Thursday concentrates upon the Last Supper, with a Communion prayer made up of a similarly elaborate, even ecstatic vocalization. The Troparion from Matins for Holy Saturday is centred on the Burial of Christ, expressed mainly in a fast-running syllabic style interspersed with doxology phrases sung by the Choir. One of the most remarkable pieces is the final Resurrection "Shine out, you new Jerusalem", in which the chant rises to new heights.


The strength of this performance lies in the sustained and controlled emotion which pours forth a sense of ease. Sister Marie's voice covers a range of just under two octaves. The timbre is rich and slightly nasal. She manages the minor/major ambiguity subtlety her ornamentation never sounds other than inevitable, Translations are given, but regrettably no original texts, and the sleeve-note sheds little light. But the record itself is a document of unusual interest.

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