Publisher Profile

Heaven and Earth – Cappella Records CR424 SACD Review

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Cappella Romana

John Michael Boyer, associate music director & conductor, with 45th Parallel Universe

Ikon of Light Sir John Tavener | Heaven and Earth: A Song of Creation Matthew Arndt · John Michael Boyer · Alexander Khalil · Kurt Sander · Richard Toensing · Tikey Zes


DISC 1 – Ikon of Light John Tavener (1944–2013) Cappella Romana, 45th parallel universe

1 Φῶς / Phós I 3:59

2 Δόξα / Dóxa 4:14

3 Τρισάγιον / Triságion I 3:20

4 Mystic Prayer to the Holy Spirit 20:20

5 Τρισάγιον / Triságion II 3:25

6 Φῶς / Phós II 3:57

7 Ἐπιφάνεια / Epiphánia 4:16


DISC 1 total 43:37


DISC 2 – Heaven and Earth: A Song of Creation Cappella Romana

1 “Come, let us worship… Bless the Lord, O my soul” John Michael Boyer (1978–) 4:38

2 “Stretching out the heavens” Boyer 2:49

3 “The deep, like a cloak” Tikey Zes (1927–) 3:33

4 “He waters the mountains” Alexander Khalil (1969–) 5:40

5 “He made the moon” Kurt Sander (1969–) 5:49

6 “There is the sea” Matthew Arndt (1976–) 7:19

7 “May the glory of the Lord endure to the ages” Richard Toensing (1940–2014) 8:52

8 “Glory to the Father… Both now…” Boyer 1:14

9 “Alleluia… Glory to you…” Toensing 4:10


DISC 2 total 44:10

Total 87:47

Price: $24.98


Cappella Records


The origin of Gregorian chant is attributed to Gregory the Great, a pope of the fifth century Catholic Church, who pioneered compilation of the music genre. But the origin of Byzantine chant, the music in this SACD, however, is attributed to St. John of Damascus, a monk, hymnographer, and theologian of 7th century Palestine. The chants are purely vocal in origin, but Grammy-nominated, Portland, Oregon-based Cappella Records has issued a two-SACD recording of Byzantine chants, the subject of this review, with the unusual accompaniment of chamber musicon Disc 1. Two compositions are featured: Disc 1 contains Ikon of Light, a 1984 composition by Sir John Tavener (1944-2013), while Disc 2 features the namesake work of this release, Heaven and Earth, in a subtotal of nine tracks by six composers: tracks 1, 2, and 8 by John Michael Boyer (1978-), track 3 by Tikey Zes (1927-), track 4 by Alexander Khalil (1969-), track 5 by Kurt Sander (1969-), track 6 by Matthew Arndt (1976-), tracks 7 and 9 by Richard Toensing (1940-2014).

Cappella Romana is the choir that performs throughout, accompanied bythe chamber music ensemble 45th Parallel Universe, also headquartered in Oregon. According to its website, Cappella Romana specializes in Slavic and Byzantine Gregorian chants. The choir also runs the record label of this release, Cappella Records.

Ikon of Light was composed in 1984, a year that saw the highest productivity from the composer who released four additional works after IoL. Consisting of 7 tracks, each track in IoL is about four minutes long, give or take, except for track 4, which runs over twenty minutes. The accompanying chamber music by the ensemble 45th Parallel Universe is singular in this genre and a welcomed one. Chant, Byzantine or Gregorian, conjures up an image of chanting monks in robes in the setting of a monastery, which can quickly become religion-centric for the non-practitioners and less-religious listeners. Add chamber music to it and it is a concert-piece at once, suitable for the whole family to enjoy, devout or not.

There is such sonic beauty and musical complexity in every track that layers and layers of harmony just keep pouring out into the listening space. Unlike masses and requiems in which vocals and messages are conveyed in varying moods and intensity, passages in this composition are quite uniform in mood minus whispery chants in one track and earth-shattering proclamations in another. One can play this all day and the music will continue to sound fresh. While the Gregorian chant lyrics are Holy Scripture excerpts, the music of this production stands on its own merits and needs not be appreciated by only the religious.

The included 32-page booklet is a detailed listening guide on the meaning of the music. Speaking for myself, as I found the music engaging on its own in the first pass, Iopted to experience the music without reading much of the booklet, lest being led into a mental construct of expectations. Therefore I read the beginning text and skipped over the paragraphs to “Liturgical context,” where the process of the composition is discussed; but even that is wordy enough that I just put it down and listened and listened.

This recording represents one of the few experiences of vocals I can recall that is so free of compression, in a performance so spirited and a recording so airy. Guided listening can undoubtedly make for a highly coordinated exercise in worship, but one listen to this disc and you will realize the spirituality in all of humanity. This release raises the bar for the Byzantine chant subsection within the vocal music category.

For the Disc 2, Heaven and Earth, the energy is palpable. Retrospectively, my experience with choir music peaked with the 24-bit 352.8k Hz FLAC edition of the Naxos Cantate Domino, previously under the label Proprius, from online retailer HDtracks. Marketed as “2xHD Mastering,” both the music and sound quality are beyond reproach to this day. H+E is less entertaining but equally if not more endearing. Choir and a cappella recordings of the eighties and nineties suffer from compression artifacts,  such as truncated dynamics and reduced resolution, probably even more so than orchestral music, resulting in unnatural, piercing sounds. The artistically supreme Barber “Agnus Dei” by the Corydon Singers under Matthew Best (Bernstein Chichester Psalms; Copland Motets –Hyperion A66219, c. 1987) has no peer to this day, but the recording can’t hold a candle to what can be achieved today. The H+E is our consolation, recorded with fervent professionalism and precision.

The human creativity, artistic and otherwise, motivated by the worshipping of a supreme celestial being, culminated in the pinnacle of the achievement of the species. In music, our artistic achievements are in the forms of chants, masses, motets, requiems, sonatas, etc. But we need not consider the music as purely worship-worthy. It would certainly be the case if one were to follow the text amidst the music as a background, but the music is worthy of being appreciated on its own. As such, the experience is at once not necessarily religious but spiritual and open to all.


Review system:

PS Audio DirectStream Power Plant 20 AC regenerator

Acoustic Sciences Corporation TubeTraps
Audio Reference Technology Analysts EVO RCA
Audio Reference Technology Analysts SE interconnects, power cables
Audio Reference Technology Super SE interconnects, power cables

Aurender N-1000SC caching music server/streamer
Bricasti Design M21 DSD DAC
Light Harmonic LightSpeed USB cable

Pass Laboratories Xs Preamp
Pass Laboratories XA200.8 pure class A monoblocks
Bricasti Design M28 class A/AB monoblocks
Sound Lab Majestic 645 electrostatic panels


Copy editor: Dan Rubin

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One Response to Heaven and Earth – Cappella Records CR424 SACD Review

  1. Mike Rubey says:

    This is amazing, wonderful, magical.
    Thank you Constantine.

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