I put on a CD today, with hymns chanted by the Choir of the Russian Church in Ennismore Gardens, London. I so vividly remember this church; it's the place where I used to go every Sunday when I was studying in London, some thirteen (!) years ago.
The music chanted in that church was not, of course, byzantine music, nor was it a typical four-part Russian choir. I am afraid I don't know exactly the origins of this music, but for sure, it was not "set" music (written in full, I mean) but was chanted quite freely, mostly based on certain "modes" which were different every Sunday (quite like the byzantine music). The choirmaster at the time was Fr Michael Fortunato, a very talented musician, an inspiring director, and an excellent tenor with the sweetest voice.
The music could seem monotonous to those not familiar with its quality; but to me, it could convey the solemnity and spiritual depth of the meanings and of the prayers. There were no strict tempo or rythm indications, which gave the melody a certain freedom of movement, quite unlike anything else I'd heard before.
Now I haven't been to Ennismore Gardens for many years. I know that things have changed dramatically (it's a long and sad story), and I wonder if the music has remained the same. More than a decade after I used to go there, all that I have as a reminescance of this beautiful choir, is this CD, that I bought some years ago... I feel always quite moved when I listen to it...