The music of Lithuanian-born (and Jewish-born -- he converted to Russian Orthodoxy in order to marry Rimsky-Korsakov's daughter) composer Maximilian Steinberg has been undergoing a revival that would seem deserved for this student of Rimsky-Korsakov, classmate of Stravinsky, and teacher of Shostakovich. Much of his work is in a conservative vein that shows the influence of Russian nationalism, but keeps mostly to Western forms. The Passion Week, Op. 13, is something else again. Steinberg worked for several years in the 1920s on this set of Orthodox Holy Week pieces, only to see sacred music banned by the Soviet government. The work was performed in the West in Latin translation, but Steinberg never heard it in its original Old Church Slavonic, and it eventually fell into total obscurity. This competent recording by the Portland, Oregon-based Cappella Romana presents itself as the world premiere. The whole story is told in the excellent notes here, but the music itself is the main attraction. The nearest comparison would be Rachmaninov's All-Night Vigil, but it is far from a knock-off. Steinberg makes less use of the characteristic Russian bass voices, but his settings, combining solo and choral sections in a variety of configurations, are equally varied and have a certain mystical streak that's very appealing. The work is nicely balanced by Rimsky-Korsakov's Chant Arrangements for Holy Week, another example of the intriguing flowering of Russian sacred music that occurred before and around the advent of Communism. Recommended, with something of a lost treasure of Russian choral music.
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