Moscow Danilov Monastery Choir / Georgy Safonov

Russian Orthodox Passion

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The notes to this release, translated from Russian but given only in German, French, and English, are not crystal clear for those not versed in Russian Orthodox music. Such details as where this music came from, whether it was orally transmitted, and what the relationship of the "tones" to Western (or Eastern) modes might be are only vaguely addressed. Nor does one learn much about the fine singers of the Moscow Danilov Monastery Choir and how they came to this music. The texts are given in Russian Cyrillic letters and in translation, making it possible for the non-Russian listener to follow the general action but only intermittently the individual texts. What you do get from the notes and from listening is this, and it's plenty interesting: the chants, consisting of a set of antiphons for Good Friday and telling the Passion story, come from a manuscript of 1598 that, unlike other Russian manuscripts until much later, is written in "linear notation," which apparently is something like Western staff notation (an illustration would have helped here). The music, for male choir, is performed in two parts, the main chant line and a drone, which occasionally changes or descends to a final note. This is interesting, for a manuscript of this period refers to "three-part chant," and there has been a good deal of discussion as to what this meant. The offered explanation that it referred to "the three dimensions of Byzantine church singing, namely, musical, verbal, and spiritual," seems odd but is supported by other quoted materials. This idea also serves the annotator as a jumping-off point for a condemnation of Italianate church music, which goes to show that every battle still has people fighting it somewhere. The chants themselves in Western terms would be designated somewhere between syllabic and neumatic, with the text broadening out at key points and at the climax, the triple repetition of "We worship Thy passion, O Christ" after the invocation "Today He who hung the earth upon the waters is hung upon the tree." As chant recordings go, this one is unusually beautiful and perhaps even spiritual, even if its verbal aspect is lacking.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 4:59
2 3:18
3 5:38
4 6:17
5 4:34
6 5:35
7 4:41
8 5:40
9 2:47
10 5:00
11 2:27
12 4:20
13 2:45
14 1:28
15 9:37
16 4:00
blue highlight denotes track pick