The inimitable Sirin Ensemble, the premier ensemble for early Russian folk and sacred music, makes its welcome return to Musica Russica’s catalog with this fabulous collection of early chants and spiritual folk songs for the Nativity of Christ (along with cat. no. H097, which has an equally rich collection of non-Christmas songs and hymns). Named after a mythological Russian bird, the Sirin Ensemble uncovers a layer of Russian vocal music that until recently had been thoroughly forgotten—ancient chants, sung both in unison and a dissonant indigenously Russian polyphony (not unlike Georgian polyphony, with which it may have a distant kinship), "spiritual verses," which were non-liturgical counterparts of the ancient chants, as well as hurdy-gurdy songs sung by wandering minstrels (kaliki perekhozhie), and Christmas hymns and carols dating from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when harmonic part singing in the Western European manner had already come to Muscovy through Ukraine. Sirin (which began as an outgrowth of the famed Dmitry Pokrovsky Ensemble) sings in a stylized folk manner, eschewing bel canto vocal technique and the restrained "academic" manner of most other groups that perform the early sacred repertoire. The results are truly eye-opening! Suddenly, one realizes that until the coming of Italian opera in the eighteenth century, Russian singers probably did not sing in the bel canto manner, nor was their music conceived with that manner in mind! As for the musical excitement which this kind of fresh approach can generate, one only has to listen to the last two carols on the CD. Never previously available in our catalog, this CD, originally released in 1994, is now out of print and available only for downloading under license from the artists. (The download includes the full booklet, which contains an informative article about the celebration of the Nativity feast in ancient Rus’, in Russian, English, and German, as well as titles in Russian and English). This CD is a must-have for all lovers of genuine Russian sacred and folk culture!—V. M.