The Organ


Phoenix Bach Choir, Kansas City Chorale & soloists
Charles Bruffy, conductor
CHANDOS Super Audio CD
CHSA 5044 74m00s

For those whose knowledge of the Russian Orthodox choral tradition stops at Rachmaninov's Vespers, Grechaninov's Passion Week will ring many familiar bells, stylistically if not literally. Grechaninov (1864-1956) belonged to the ‘new Russian choral school' of composers who, inspired by the Moscow Synodal School of Church Singing, created a large repertory of music for use in the Orthodox Church. Passion Week is a collection of thirteen hymn and psalm settings, some based on liturgical chants, that reflect events leading up to Christ's crucifixion. This is direct and immensely beautiful unaccompanied choral music, though far from bland. Intensity is achieved not by harmonic or linear complexity – dissonance and counterpoint are virtually absent – but by the richness of multipart textures. Grechaninov's homophonic writing, occasionally relieved by solo sections – as in ‘Let my prayer be set forth' (Psalm 141), which alternates between full choir and verses for a tenor soloist (the excellent Paul Davidson) and a semi-chorus of women's voices – induce an almost hypnotic air of meditation, especially when performed, as here, with such expressive power and tonal lustre. Under Charles Bruffy's inspired direction the combined 52-strong Phoenix Bach Choir and Kansas City Choral make a wonderful sound. Superbly balanced, gloriously effulgent (lots of bottom Cs and even some subterranean B flats from the basses!) and elegantly shaped – witness the effortlessly engineered crescendos in ‘Weep not for me, Mother' – this is singing of the highest calibre. Although there are no dramatic surprises the slow-burning tableau is even more compelling as it unfolds, and when it reaches the end with a mesmeric ‘Let all mortal flesh keep silence', becomes the nearest thing to musical heaven. Only those with cloth ears and no soul will fail to be transported and uplifted. Thoroughly recommended. DH