SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

Unto All Ages: Sacred Choral Music of SVIRIDOV, RACHMANIOFF and TCHAIKOVSKY = TCHAIKOVSKY: Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Op. 41; RACHMANIOFF – All-Night Vigil, Op. 37; GEORGY SVIRIDOV – Ineffable Mystery – Gloriae Dei Cantores

The performances by Gloriæ Dei Cantores are poised, beautifully sung, maybe a bit cool compared especially with those of Russian singers.

Published on April 7, 2010

Unto All Ages: Sacred Choral Music of SVIRIDOV, RACHMANIOFF and TCHAIKOVSKY = TCHAIKOVSKY: Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Op. 41; RACHMANIOFF – All-Night Vigil, Op. 37; GEORGY SVIRIDOV – Ineffable Mystery – Gloriae Dei Cantores

Unto All Ages: Sacred Choral Music of SVIRIDOV, RACHMANIOFF and TCHAIKOVSKY = TCHAIKOVSKY: Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Op. 41; RACHMANIOFF – All-Night Vigil, Op. 37; GEORGY SVIRIDOV – Ineffable Mystery – Gloriæ Dei Cantores / Elizabeth C. Patterson – Gloriæ Dei Cantores  multichannel SACD GDCD 047, 56:07 [Distr. by Paraclete Press] ***:

This CD should come with a disclaimer that it includes only excerpts from classics of Russian liturgical music, at least in the case of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. As for the music of Georgy Sviridov, Ineffable Mystery, doesn’t seem to be otherwise available, so this is the most valuable inclusion on the current disc.

It’s certainly a tribute to both Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky that their choral works are readily identifiable as coming from their pens alone—immediately identifiable in the case of Tchaikovsky’s Liturgy. Written while Tchaikovsky was decompressing from his disastrous, brief marriage of 1878, the Liturgy was his attempt to force the hand of the Imperial Chapel and update the traditions of Russian sacred choral music. (It worked: the Church hierarchy condemned the work and banned future performances until a civil court ruled in favor of future public performances.) Tchaikovsky’s typically fragrant melodies and Romantic harmonies thus coexist with chant and traditional polyphony in an appealing musical fusion.

Much the same could be said of Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil, written just before the Russian Revolution, a last lovely gasp of cosmopolitan White Russian musical influence before Bolshevism would sweep that influence away, or try to. Commentators have called this work a “liturgical symphony,” and in its long richly upholstered melodic lines, it does have symphonic contours. This disc includes one of the “scherzos” from the piece, “Blessed Art Thou,” a movement that in its impulsive off-rhythms couldn’t have come from anyone but Rachmaninoff.
Georgy Sviridov (1915-1998) isn’t widely known in the West, but he’s revered in his native land and was one of Dmitri Shostakovich’s favorite pupils. He wrote in all musical forms, including opera, but seems best known for his vocal and choral works, which include oratorio and cantata settings. With Ineffable Mysteries, a six-movement suite drawn from the church music Sviridov wrote toward the end of his life, we have another leap forward in musical terms, as more “difficult” harmonies and chromaticism take their place beside liturgical tradition. Still, this is music of a neoromantic sort, a kind of Russian Samuel Barber, and it’s just as easy on and beguiling to the ear as Barber.

The performances by Gloriæ Dei Cantores are poised, beautifully sung, maybe a bit cool compared especially with those of Russian singers. The chorus is equally beautifully recorded in the ample acoustic of the Church of the Transfiguration in Orleans, Massachusetts. Solo singers are drawn from the ranks of the chorus, as would be the case in actual performance, so we have no superstars here. The men of Gloriæ Dei Cantores acquit themselves more capably than the women, who tend to wobble a bit, but I have no serious complaints on that score. So do I have a complaint? You bet: I question the “greatest hits” approach to Tchaikovsky’s and Rachmaninoff’s masterworks. For those, I would turn to complete recordings, such as Robert Shaw’s well-regarded Rachmaninoff on Telarc.

– Lee Passarella




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