> Russki Partes ADW7343 [PW]: Classical Reviews- March 2002 MusicWeb-International

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Orlando di LASSUS Timor et tremor 3’58"
Giovanni P. da PALESTRINA Missa ‘L’Homme Armé’ 29’37"
PALESTRINA Alla riva del Tebro 1’51"
LASSUS Ecce Maria genuit nobis 2’54"
Nicolas DILETSKI Ije obrazu tvoiemu, stsena v burse 2’49"
Simeon PEKALITSKI (The Divine Service)
Slujba bojia, liturgia 17’18"
Alexandre TRETIAKOV Bogoroditse dievo, raduisia 2’27"
Nicolas TOLSTIAKOV Priditie ka mnie vse trujdaiuchiisia 3’16"
Fedor STEPANOV Otche nach 2’59"
Unspecified recording location and dates
Ensemble "Russki Partes"
PAVANE ADW 7343 [67.09]


Experience Classicsonline

The notes for this recording explain the unusual programming of Italian renaissance music and Russian sacred music by speaking of "a clever mixture of the national schools in Europe; Franco-Flemish and Italian, Franco-Flemish and Russian." The Franco-Flemish and Italian music represented by Lassus and Palestrina respectively is well known repertoire of the renaissance. The Russian music is certainly less well known, albeit not deservedly so. It ranges in time of composition from the 17th century up to 1951. Each of these works bears that timeless character that is such a distinctive feature of Russian sacred music.

The idea behind the disc is an interesting one, but the historical connections between renaissance Europe and Russia, and the influence of outside music on later Russian choral development is so negligible, that the idea does not come across particularly clearly in the performance. Furthermore the singing of the "Italian" Lassus and Palestrina is "different" to put it very politely. In short, much of it is unrecognisable. Certainly Palestrina would have difficulty hearing much of what he wrote in the opening of this version of the jaunty madrigal "Alla riva del Tebro" (Sample 1). The choral style of Russian choirs is so distinctive and so different from the style of Western choirs that, unless a wholesale change to the manner of vocal production were employed, the lightness and clarity of vowel so necessary for Italian music is always going to be absent. Throughout this recording the balance of parts and clarity of polyphonic line is obscured by the dark Russian timbre and this makes a work the length of the Missa ‘L’Homme Armé’ heavy going for the listener. The presence in the recording venue of an additional chorus of rather enthusiastic birds also palls after not very long at all.

As soon as the Russian half of the programme starts it is a whole new story. This is the music that a choir such as Russki Partes is meant to sing, and no western choir can touch the level of passion and intensity that a Russian group brings to their native repertoire. The whole style of vocal production, so muddy and inappropriate for Lassus or Palestrina is here perfectly natural (Sample 2). While the Pekalitski "Divine Service" is somewhat repetitive as a composition it has some fine moments. However, it is the shorter works that really stop the listener breathing. The un-named soprano in works by Tolstiakov and Tretiakov is simply magnificent - a rich sound of searing intensity (Sample 3). Likewise, the baritone in the Stepanov ‘Lord’s Prayer’ may not make a constantly beautiful sound, but, by God, he means it! This is fascinating repertoire that is not easy to hear live in the West. It is a great pity that the whole disc was not taken up with this superb music and a great pity that a producer did not have the guts to tell the singers that they should leave the Italian stuff alone. This recording gives you half a disc of excellent listening, but that makes the time / value ratio pretty poor. If you like Russian sacred music, there is much here that you can’t get elsewhere, and which is worth having. If you hate Italian music then you’ll also love these renditions.

Peter Wells


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