Steven Fox conducts The Clarion Choir performing Sternberg’s Passion Week

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COMPOSERS: Steinberg
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Steinberg
WORKS: Passion Week
PERFORMER: The Clarion Choir/Steven Fox
CATALOGUE NO: 8.573665

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Here’s something quite unexpected. Until hearing this release, my limited acquaintance with the music of Maximilian Steinberg seemed to confirm the conventional assessment of him as a worthy if somewhat academic composer who was heavily influenced by his father-in-law, Rimsky-Korsakov. This impression is completely swept away by his extraordinary Passion Week (1923), a grandly conceived work for unaccompanied chorus in the Russian Orthodox Tradition that follows very much in the footsteps of such masterpieces as Rachmaninov’s All-Night Vigil. As with the Rachmaninov, Steinberg creates a magnificent, richly textured and boldly original musical edifice, drawing inspiration from pre-existing Slavonic chants and creating an aura of mystical and often hypnotic devotion. It’s all the more remarkable that he composed such passionately religious music in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution at a time when the Church was severely persecuted by the Bolsheviks. Indeed, Steinberg quickly realised that there was little chance of him hearing a performance of Passion Week, and he therefore took steps to secure its publication outside Russia. Even so, the work remained completely unknown until a few years ago when it was revived and recorded in the United States with considerable success. This second recording, atmospherically recorded at the Archdiocesan Cathedral of Holy Trinity New York, boasts marvellously committed fervent singing from the Clarion Choir under Steven Fox and deserves the widest possible dissemination.

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Erik Levi