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Suprasl - Orthodox Mosaic from Suprasl Monastery

The Russian Patriarchate Choir conducted by - Anatoly Grindenko
Recorded 1996 in L'Eglise du Liban, Paris. OPUS 111 OPS 30-229 DDD [78.58]

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This disc is wonderful. If you like listening to deep Russian basses in full flight, then this is a disc for you. The Russian Patriarchate Choir consists of twelve members, and was formed in 1980 by Anatoly Grindenko. Its main area of activity was that of concentrating on the repertoire of the Russian Orthodox liturgy, and was different in that the choir is small, representative of the scale of ensemble used by many churches throughout Russia. It concentrates on singing restored ancient works, many of which had fallen into obscurity.

The works on this disc are good examples of this genre, being of 16th century provenance. The monastery of Suprasl was founded in 1498 by Prince Alexander Khodkievich on the banks of the river Suprasl, not far from Bielostok (in today's Poland). The new monastery took in monks from Mount Athos and the monastery in the caves of Kiev. Both bodies brought their own traditions of rites and chants.

In the seventeenth century this monastery was considered to be the foremost centre of the Orthodox world, achieving renown through its library, printing workshop, copying workshop and school. The monastery had its own choir which was famous in the outside world. This choir was made up of both monks as well as lay members.

Great attention was focused on singing, and chant books were produced to ensure that the format and content of the old styles were maintained. The Suprasl heirmologian was a complete edition of these chants and other musical items, and was probably compiled to celebrate the centenary of the formation of the monastery. It consisted of 1,130 pages, and this disc can only therefore be a very small example of the contents.

Throughout the seventeenth century, copies were distributed throughout the Orthodox world, and used extensively. The actual heirmologian, beautifully printed in traditional Balkan style with illuminated capitals, decorated margins and illustrated miniatures was lost during the 1930s, but found again in 1972.

Anatoly Grindenko, having found the manuscript, began restoring it and completing some missing sections by copying out the relevant chants. The book covers services for the whole of the Orthodox year, some of them originating in Mount Athos, and others from Kiev. Most of the content however was written in Suprasl, and so the complete book is an amalgam of these styles.

Much research has been done to translate the old styles into modern notation, and the results of some of this work are here superbly presented to allow us a glimpse of what the Orthodox empire was experiencing in the 1500s and 1600s.


John Phillips


John Phillips

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