GRECHANINOV: Passion Week, Op. 58 – Phoenix Bach Choir/ Kansas City Chorale/ Charles Bruffy, conductor – Chandos

by | Feb 8, 2008 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

GRECHANINOV:  Passion Week, Op. 58 – Phoenix Bach Choir/ Kansas City Chorale/ Charles Bruffy, conductor – Chandos multichannel SACD CHSA 5044, 74:00 *****:

Grechaninov’s Passion Week is a compendium of liturgical texts taken from the most important liturgical week of the year in the Eastern Orthodox Church, that of the week before Pascha or Easter. After a long period of very strict fasting (40 days in all, with no meat or dairy products or fish of any kind taken) the faithful enter into what is known as the Great and Holy Week, a time when there are services literally morning, during the day, and at night. Some of the richest and most profound theological texts in the church are sung during the services of this week (very few hymns in the Orthodox Church are simply read) amounting to thousands of hymns before the week is up. Many of course have become very popular and even famous (“Gladsome Light”, sung at every vespers service is the oldest extant Christian hymn). These works are distributed throughout the week as the church recalls the events leading up to Christ’s death and finally resurrection.

Alexander Tikonovich Grechaninov (1864-1956), who emigrated to France and finally to the United States after the 1917 revolution, is seen as perhaps the last in a line of composers who firmly believed in bringing all of the components of modern choral singing, almost orchestral in force, to his unaccompanied vocal music. The Passion premiered in 1912 by the Moscow Synodal Choir, and was left in stasis until the 1990s when another Chandos recording, by Valery Polyansky, set the matter straight. Now this new recording by Charles Bruffy and his estimable forces seem to have given us a definitive reading. There will be some who will feel that this singing is not “Russian” enough, but that is to do the music a disservice, and to relegate to provincialism the very nature of Orthodox music of any kind. The fact is that Bruffy’s sopranos soar and his basses shake the earth. The music is rendered with love and affection, and the composer himself would certainly be most pleased with the results. Grechaninov likely did not think that any of the music would be sing in a church (and once you hear these voices and the requirements of the work, you understand why), but some pieces have crept into the repertory of the larger choirs. But he intended this music as a concert experience, an extra-liturgical adventure in the realms of the mystical texts of the Passion Week, as Rachmaninov intended his seminal Vespers, surely the closest work one can recall next to this one.

Chandos has done another bang-up job with the spacious and resonant sound, nicely distributed among all the speakers, and the cumulative choral effect can be overwhelming at times. Bruffy shows a natural affinity for this music, and now rivals the excellent Gloria Dei Cantores in the quality of work he is putting forth. Erudite and accurate notes by Dr. Vladimir Morosan, plus texts and translations round out a superbly desirable release.


Behold, the Bridegroom
I see Thy Bridal chamber
In Thy Kingdom
Gladsome Light
Let my prayer be set forth
Now the powers of heaven
At Thy mystical supper
The wise thief
Thou who clothest Thyself
The Lord is God…The Noble Joseph
Weep not for me, O Mother
As many of you…Arise, O God
Let all mortal flesh

— Steven Ritter

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