Steinberg: Passion Week, Op. 13
The Clarion Choir & Steven Fox
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As a huge fan of Rachmaninoff, who listens to his Vespers pretty much weekly, I was eager to hear this piece by his contemporary, Maximilian Steinberg. It is absolutely transcendent, beginning with strikingly penitential alleluias calling down judgment on "the glorious ones of the earth" and ending with completely different, triumphantly ringing alleluias that raise us to eternity. In between are moments that keep calling me back, particularly the velvety “Of Thy Mystical Supper” and the haunting “Do Not Lament Me, O Mother.” The choir is absolutely stellar, with superb intonation, beautiful balance, and seemingly authentic pronunciation, and the interpretation is sensitive both in its reverence for the text and its marvelous shaping of the often dense and convoluted lines. A winner!
This is easily one of 2016's greatest classical music albums. Steinberg's Passion Week is a fascinating work that seems to combine the best elements of both the Russian liturgical repertoire with the sophisticated choral harmonies we hear in the all-night vigil. Simultaneously, however, the work has stunningly simple sections that are overpowering in this splendidly produced recording with the remarkable Clarion Choir led by Steven Fox. This group combines the best of Russian choral singing (who knew there were true Russian basses west of St. Petersburg?) and the clarity of the greatest Bach choirs. It makes sense the choir is part of the legendary Clarion Music Society, which Maestro Fox has raised out of the ashes like a phoenix.
Since downloading this work, I've listened to this piece on repeat for the past twelve hours. If you can only buy one album this year, make it this one.