This is the third week that I’ve been playing specially selected Easter music. But the effort has been more than worthwhile, as we’ve heard some gorgeous music over the last few weeks. Tonight will be no different.
We began the evening with a gorgeous choral recording of a work by the Russian composer Alexander Grechaninov. Grechaninov studied under the great composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, who considered his talent so great that he gave Grechaninov extra study time and considerable financial help, as Grechaninov was doing this against his parents’ wishes and without their assistance. He was considered an important composer in Russia, so much so that the Tsar gave him an annual pension. He eventually emigrated to the United States after the Bolshevik Revolution, and died in New York City in 1956, at the age of 91. He is most notable for his liturgical works, among which is found tonight’s work, his Passion Week, Op. 58. The official title is Strastnaya Sedmista (The 7 Days of the Passion), but it is commonly referred to as Passion Week. Tonight’s recording is highly regarded 2007 recording by the Phoenix Chorale and the Kansas City Chorale, one that was nominated for 4 Grammy Awards in 2008, including Best Classical Album, winning the award for Best Engineered Album, Classical.
We then heard a work by Johann Pachelbel. His Jauchzet dem Herrn (“Be Joyful In The Lord”) was based on Psalm 100, but also used some free poetic verse, and also included a stanza from the chorale Nun kanket alle Gott. The cantata exhibits influence by the then-new French style, which Pachelbel is credited with having introduced into Germany. As Bach is noted for his use of the French compositional style in a number of instances, the importance of the method showing up in a cantata work like this cannot be underestimated, given that Pachelbel was a family friend of the Bachs, and given that Johann Sebastian is known to have had a number of Pachelbel’s works in his library.
The next work we heard, William Byrd‘s Mass Propers for Easter Day, was a work of great courage and conviction, given the anti-Catholic environment that surrounded Byrd in England at the time, especially after the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. At least one man was thrown into prison for the mere possession of the various collections of Vespers that Byrd had published (the Gradualia in 1605). Byrd accommodated the situation by making his music flexible – suitable for use during private devotionals that might be held in the home, or for liturgical use. This set of Mass Propers were taken from texts found in both the 1605 and 1607 Gradualia publications of Byrd’s. The recording is a 2001 recording by The Cardinall’s Musick, with Andrew Carwood directing.
We closed tonight’s set with Magnificat 5 – He Remembering His Mercy Hath Holpen His Servant Israel, a piece from Marcel Dupré’s Fifteen Pieces for Organ. We heard a 1989 recording by Robert Triplett.