Some initial reviews:
“...[the singers] launched out into deep waters of choral beauty that I have really never heard. It was really stunning!”
“The ensemble singing, blend and intonation is exquisite, as fine as any choral recording I have ever heard.”
"The voices are so good, blend very well together, tonality is excellent, and pronunciation so very clear. The selection of the numbers is extremely "tasteful", appropriate for Holy Week, capturing the spirit of the Orthodox understanding and celebration of that great Week."
On this CD, Archangel Voices presents a mosaic of hymns drawn from the vast musical richness of Holy Week services. Stylistically, the musical selections also seek to assemble a patchwork quilt that represents current musical practice among Orthodox parishes in America—drawing from Byzantine- and Slavic-style chants, all adapted and arranged in English, as well as some new compositions and new English-language adaptations.
Most Orthodox worship services contain what the eminent Russian liturgical musicologist Johann von Gardner has called a “musical tension curve”—hymns that, because of their content or placement in the service, have become the object of heightened attention from composers (known or anonymous) as well as worshipers, for whom hearing a particular hymn during a given service constitutes a special grace-filled moment that they anticipate and subsequently draw strength from all year long.
For the “Matins of the Bridegroom,” celebrated on Holy Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, two of these hymns are, without doubt, the Troparion “Behold, the Bridegroom Comes” and the Exaposteilarion “Thy Bridal Chamber.”
For the Divine Liturgy of Holy Thursday, which celebrates the institution of the Holy Eucharist—the Lord’s Mystical Supper, few hymns summarize and express the central meaning of the occasion better than the hymn “Come, O Faithful,” the heirmos of the Ninth Ode of the Canon, which invites the faithful to partake of the Master’s hospitality—the Banquet of Immortality—with minds uplifted.
Among Orthodox Christians of Mediterranean background, the highlight of the Matins of Holy Friday (the “Twelve Gospels”) is the Fifteenth Antiphon, “Today, He Who Hung the Earth upon the Waters,” while for those of Slavic background, it is the Exaposteilarion, “The Wise Thief.” Interestingly, Deacon Sergius Trubachov’s chant-like composition for the Fifteenth Antiphon has in recent years succeeded in elevating the musical prominence of this hymn in the Russian Orthodox Church, while in American Orthodox parishes comprising a multitude of national backgrounds, both the Fifteenth Antiphon and the Exaposteilarion are receiving increasing degrees of attention.
The moment in the Vespers of Holy Friday when the Icon of the Winding Sheet (Epitaphios, Plashchanitsa) is brought out into the center of the church is prepared by the poetic verses (stichera) of the Aposticha, and culminates in the verse after “Glory... now and ever” (doxastichon). The melody of these stichera is a “model melody” (avtomelon, samopodoben), which is subsequently used on numerous occasions throughout the liturgical year, recalling this poignant and emotionally charged liturgical moment.
The Church offers all of its Holy Week services equally for the edification of the faithful. But heritage Orthodox, the service of the Twelve Gospels, with the singing of “The Wise Thief,” became established as a service of great prominence; similarly, among the Orthodox of the Mediterranean world, that place of prominence is, without question, occupied by the Matins of Holy Saturday, with the singing of the “Lamentations” (also known as “Praises”) as its musical focal point. In American Orthodox parishes of all ethnic heritages the way the “Lamentations” are rendered musically can serve as a powerful tool for expressing “unity in diversity,” which is fast becoming an essential aspect of the Church in North America. For this reason, the “Lamentations” are presented on this CD in a variety of styles and traditions, including Byzantine (in its Antiochian, Bulgarian, Greek, and Romanian variants), Serbian, as well as a Russian-style choral setting; the essential presence of the Seventeenth Kathisma (Psalm 118) in the Burial Service (both of the Lord Jesus Christ and any Orthodox Christian) is restored.
Equally crucial to a successful presentation of the “Lamentations” is the metered character of the verses, which must number a specific number of syllables and fit a given pattern of accented syllables, while making sense in English. The texts presented on this CD are, of necessity, a synthesis of various existing translations, drawing upon the work of Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware), Archimandrite Ephrem (Lash), Holy Transfiguration Monastery, St. Vladimir’s Seminary, and others.
The increased use of Byzantine Chant, authentically transcribed and well-composed with accurate English text translations in mind, stands to enrich greatly the musical worship of the Church in America. Archangel Voices are indebted to the expertise of Drs. Jessica Suchy-Pilalis and Alexander Khalil for their guidance in the selection and editorial rendering of the Byzantine melodies sung on this CD.
The repertoire on this CD is rounded out by hymns that have seemingly transcended all ethnic traditions and have entered the mainstream fabric of American Orthodoxy—“The Noble Joseph” in its Bulgarian Chant incarnation (echoed in the Greek melody as well), and the Canon of Great and Holy Saturday sung in the Lesser Znamenny Chant. The CD closes with the hymn “Come, Let Us Bless Joseph,” sung as the faithful come forward to venerate the Icon of the Winding Sheet, which depicts Jesus Christ, the Life of All, lying in the tomb.