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CD Review

Passion Week

Cappella Romana/Alexander Lingas
Cappella Romana CR414-CD
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"Recently rediscovered, Steinberg's Passion Week is the last major sacred work in Russia composed after the 1917 Revolution." We are incredibly lucky to have this music at all, considering the circumstances, and very fortunate to have this beautiful work performed by such excellent forces. I've been a fan of Cappella Romana for a few years now, and they have thoroughly enriched our understanding of Orthodox choral music from all over the world. Director Alexander Lingas – who also provides the detailed, yet accessible notes for this release – marshals his forces to create an immaculate blend and an ethereal experience.

The son-in-law of Rimsky-Korsakoff (this disc is a clever family affair), Maximilian Steinberg is far less known than his more famous counterpart. He was born Jewish, but converted to Christianity to marry Rimsky's daughter in 1908. He was not a progressive – neither was the family he married into – and his works often recall an earlier time. This works very well for a piece like Passion Week, there are echoes of Rachmaninoff and Gretchaninov everywhere, but the writing is distinctive in its own way and wholly captivating in any case. Suffice to say that it hardly breaks new ground, but there is much to savor in the beautiful harmonies and soaring melodies. Cappella Romana does this sort of thing better than anyone, and there is literally nothing to criticize from a technical standpoint. The recording, captured in a smallish Catholic Church, happily lacks a big, watery sound. This allows for more flowing tempi and ideal diction.

The Rimsky-Korsakoff chants are nice to have, but they certainly take a backseat to Passion Week. That's not to say they aren't really lovely music, but they are certainly even less adventurous than Passion Week. As an orchestrator, Rimsky had few peers. As a choral arranger, he's typically concerned with colorful chords and beautiful harmonics. The intonations are excellent, as is the full choral sound. Conservative, perhaps, but awfully pretty. The texts and translations are always welcome, and the whole project is as well-crafted and professional as one could wish. This is a major addition to any choral library.

Copyright © 2015, Brian Wigman