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  Alba Records -
  NCD 44
  O Gladsome Light - The Krysostomos Chamber Choir
  Virpi Leppänen, Mikko Sidoroff, Hieromonk (later Archbishop) Paavali Ville Matvejeff, Johann von Gardner

The Krysostomos Chamber Choir
Mikko Sidoroff (conductor)
Track listing:
  Classical - Vocal
Recording type:
Recording info:

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Related titles: 1

Reviews: 1

Review by Lute May 17, 2013 (3 of 3 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
O Gladsome Light is the Krysostomos Chamber Choir's second SACD, following Sidoroff: Panihida - The Chrysostomos Chamber Choir. And it is mesmerizingly beautiful. 

It is a celebration of Finnish Orthodox church music.  This program of music was inspired by the monasteries of Valaam in Russian Karelia and the New Valamo monastery in Finland.  It is a tribute to those who kept the Orthodox culture, faith, and tradition alive in Finland during the dark times in the long and complicated history of Finland and Russia. There is an interesting essay "A tunnel from Ladoga to Heinavesi" by Hannu Kilpelainen in the booklet.   Standing on an island in the middle of Lake Ladoga (the largest lake in Europe) is the monastery of Valaam.  Lake Ladoga was shared by Finland and Russia for many years, but became part of the former USSR at the end of WWII.  Kilpelainen's tells us of the courage of the Finnish evacuees who fled Valaam through the monastery's underground tunnel and thus were able to save the books, teachings, music and other treasures of the monastery.  Not all was gloom and doom, though.  On a romantic note... Kilpelainen tells a cute story about the antics of young men who used the tunnel as a secret date spot. In the Orthodox church, young men can become priests if they take a vow of celebacy OR are married. Part of the tunnel goes under a graveyard. While guiding their girlfriend (and hopefully their bride-to-be) through the tunnel by candlelight, many of the young "future" priests would blow out the candle just under the graveyard... hoping to have their girlfriend cling tightly to them and thus eventually marry them before they were ordained.

Along with being the title of this disc, O Gladsome Light is an ancient hymn, dating from the 2nd or 3rd centuries.  It is one of the earliest Christian hymns and is also known as the Candle-light Hymn due to its being sung in the evening while the candles are lit.  Originally in Greek, O Gladsome Light has been translated into various languages. Naturally for this recording, it is sung in Finnish (a most beautiful language).  This SACD is a collection of hymns and songs composed by several composers. This time Mikko Sidoroff (the conductor of this marvelous choir) is joined by four other composers: Virpi Leppanen, Johann von Gardner, Archbishop Paavali, and Ville Matvejeff.  Their music, while being based on ancient melodies, is modern... several pieces having been composed quite recently.   Some people might feel sacred music, though important historically, can sometimes be a bit heavy.  But rather than being tiresome or stiff, this "modern" Orthodox music performed here is a joy to listen to.  Each of these talented composers has his or her own unique style and their music comes together seamlessly to create an inspiring program of heavenly music.  

The program opens with 3 works by Virpi Leppanen: the gentle psalm "Praise ye the name of the Lord", followed by a solemn "O Gladsome Light" and a confessional yet uplifting "Have mercy on Us, O Lord, have mercy on us".  Mikko Sidoroff's Valamo Suite opens with a radiant "O taste and see", then the inward looking "Blessed is the man", and closes with an eloquent "O Gladsome Light".  
The short, nostalgic poem "Silver gleam the wide lake waters" provides a lighter moment before the longest work on the disc... Ville Matvejeff's evocative and dramatic "The Wanderer's Song".  With its dissonant harmonies and romantic melodic arches,  it is one of the more complicated and challenging pieces here.   And the Krysostomos Chamber Choir is completely up to the challenge.  The shimmering voices of the sopranos open the piece and are joined by other voices gradually reaching a powerful crescendo. In the middle section those long, low, steady basses (that Orthodox chant does so well) create a hypnotic atmosphere for the rest of the choir to express the longing and sadness of having to leave their beloved home. Toward the end (on the multichannel track) the choir is separated into two. The rear speakers are used independently for a section of the choir, greatly adding to the atmosphere.  It seems that this is the only piece recorded this way. Actually, I would have liked to have heard more recorded in this manner. It is very well done. Fortunately, the other pieces are very well recorded, too... with the real speakers used discretely, creating a warm and natural ambiance.

We return to Virpi Leppanen and 3 more of her lovely works based on Russian church melodies.   And then, the program closes with 3 pieces by Johann von Gardner the earliest composer on this disc.   Born in the Russian Crimea in 1898, he extensively researched and wrote about Russian, Slavic and Byzantine works... along with composing.  His music provides a fittingly solemn end to this wonderful program, which the Krysostomos Chamber Choir have performed so magnificently.

Alba's recording is excellent in both Mch and 2-channel ...beautifully conveying the voices and the atmospheric sound of the Church of the Transfiguration of Christ at New Valamo.  The recording took place in January 2011. The informative booklet also contains the Finnish texts and their English translations.

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Works: 12  

Johann von Gardner - Blessed is the man whom Thou choosest (old melody)
Johann von Gardner - Let all mortal flesh keep silence
Johann von Gardner - O Gladsome Light (Kievan chant)
Virpi Leppänen - Have mercy on us Lord, have mercy on us (old melody from Valaam)
Virpi Leppänen - O Gladsome Light (old melody from Valaam)
Virpi Leppänen - O taste and see (old melody from Valaam)
Virpi Leppänen - Praise ye the name of the Lord (znamennyi melody)
Virpi Leppänen - Resurrectional troparion I (znamennyi melody)
Virpi Leppänen - Resurrectional troparion II (znamennyi melody)
Ville Matvejeff - The Wanderer’s Song
Hieromonk Paavali - Silver gleam the wide lake waters
Mikko Sidoroff - Valamo Suite based on hymns from Valaam