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Kontakion on the Nativity of Christ
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1. Promion: The Virgin gives birth today
2. Stanza I: Bethlehem has opened Eden
3. Stanza II: The Father of the Mother by intent became her Son
4. Stanza III: O High King, what is there for you among the beggars?
5. Stanza IV: As she says such tings in the presence of the Ineffable
6. Stanza VI: As Mary heard all of these astonishing words
7. Stanza VII: Since they are your people, O Child
8. Stanza VIII: Jesus, who is truly the Christ and also our God
9. Stanza IX: Receive, then, O Holy Lady
10. Stanza X: The Magi hastened at once into the inner room
11. Stanza XI: "I will tell you," said Mary to the Magi
12. Stanza XXII: Now when She who is blameless saw the Magi
13. Stanza XXIV: (Epilogue) Save the world, O our Savior
14. O Nations, Let Us Now Prepare
15. Isaish, As He Watched By Night
16. In Olden Days
17. What Shall We Call You
18. Now hear, O Bethlehem
19. The Virgin, as was Said of Old
20. O Let Creation All Rejoice
21. Now Christ is Born Upon the Earth
22. The Rod of Jesse
23. The Shepherds in the Fields
24. Once Sorrow had Silenced Zion
25. Make Glad, You Righteous
American composer Richard Toensing creates a vibrant musical synthesis of East and West with new settings of ancient Orthodox Christmas texts. This virtuosic Choral Concerto for unaccompanied double choir and multiple soloists uses the dramatic words of St. Romanos the Melodist (6th c.) to recount the mystery of Jesus? birth. Toensing?s more intimate New Orthodox Carols for the Nativity of Christ alternate between exuberant celebration and joyful contemplation as they bridge the gap between Byzantine and American hymnody. Chanted/sung in English, liner notes in English with complete hymn text.
Fr Apostolos Hill
St. Romanos the Melodist (October 1st) is perhaps the most-beloved of all Orthodox hymnographers but his musical gifts were not at first readily apparent. In fact, so inept was he in his first faltering efforts at the psaltiri that he was mocked and derided by his brother monks until one day in desperation he cried out to the Virgin Mary for her assistance. Her reward to him for his faith and constancy was the hymn that is considered by many to be the most beautiful in the entire treasury of Orthodox hymnology; the kontakion ?Today the Virgin Comes to the Cave.? The latest offering of Cappella Roman, Kontakion on the Nativity of Christ, makes available for the first time most of the other stanzas of the Kontakia on the Nativity by St. Romanos the Melodist, following its familiar preamble ?Today the Virgin.? Composed by Richard Toensing, recipient of numerous awards in composition, and directed by Alexander Lingus, Cappella Romanas? founder and musical director, this version of the Kontakion (essentially a lengthy chanted sermon) is as unique as it is enjoyable. Here, Toensing employs the paraliturgical concerto setting for the illumination of these stanzas and the melodic formulas of the Russian ?Greek? chant version of mode or tone three. Hence, Byzantine music purists looking to acquire something they could potentially sing in their home parishes should understand that these hymns are not liturgical music as such, at least not as understood today. But the charm and beauty of the music and the theological potency of St. Romanos? texts keep the listener?s attention in a joyful crescendo of praise to the Lord?s Incarnation from the Virgin and the Holy Spirit. And the 2nd part of the disc is devoted to a collection of ?New Orthodox Carols for the Nativity of Christ? and here the term ?carols? is operative since these are truly Carols in a Dickensian sense. Again, these are not hymns that would easily lend themselves to a liturgical setting but they could be easily learned and sung in a non-liturgical parish setting and may, in time, grow to become the favorite of American Orthodox audiences since they are adapted from well-known liturgical settings. But the technical and liturgical nuances aside, this is a very accessible recording and one that sweeps the listener up in the harmonious cadence of the stanzas and the hymns. And understood in that light, e.g. that this does not fit in the typical ?liturgical music? category, it is a real treat. As always, the musicianship of Cappella Romana is above reproach and the arrangements really give the superb voices of the group ample room to shine as they move smoothly through the tracks. If you are a lover of their growing discography I am certain you will want to add this their latest offering to your collection.
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