The Spiritual Revival Choir is a mixed chorus and the booklet photograph shows 37 singers. It was founded in 1992 and Lev Kontorovich has been their Director since 1997. Though they sing a wide variety of music the music of their native land is clearly the cornerstone of their repertoire. On this CD they present a varied selection of pieces which were either composed specifically for liturgical use or have strong links with the liturgy of the Orthodox church.
The first thing to say is that the choir is first class. Judging by the photograph most of the singers are relatively young (probably in their thirties) and their voices blend well. Chording and tuning is impeccable throughout and their quiet singing is particularly impressive. Anyone wishing to sample the disc will get a good idea of what is on offer here by listening to Arkhangelsky's 'I Cried out to The Lord' (track 4). Much of this piece is fairly quiet and the soft singing is wonderfully controlled, as are the crescendi to the more impassioned sections. The basses are firm in tone (with no 'wobble') and the tenors have that special nasal quality so characteristic of Slav tenors. The ladies are excellent.
The programme is well chosen, containing some rapt and moving music though I don't think I'd recommend listening to the whole disc at one go. The harmonic language and rhythms are somewhat limited in variety - even in the case of Schnittke - no doubt out of respect for the traditions of the liturgy. Though most of the compositions are homophonic choral pieces there are a few solo passages which I presume are taken by members of the choir. All are very well sung and I particularly liked the brief contributions of Viktoria Smirnova, a clear and pure soprano.
Most of the composers represented will be unknown to Western listeners. (In passing, I was a little surprised at the omission of any Rachmaninov.) This is welcome but potential purchasers should be aware of one surprising drawback. Most unusually for Delos the documentation is very sparse. The notes, by the conductor, consist of two or three sentences at most about each composer. Even more serious is the absence of texts and translations. This, I must say, is a very serious flaw for it is well-nigh impossible to appreciate unfamiliar music such as this, sung in an unfamiliar tongue, when the listener has little idea what the singers are singing about.
I think an opportunity has been missed here. Delos have given us a recording of an excellent choir presenting a cross-section of pieces from an unfamiliar but interesting repertoire. Accompanied by proper documentation this release could have provided a very useful introduction to Russian Orthodox liturgical music from the last 150 years or so. As it is, despite the consistently high standard of performance, this listener was left with the impression of a job only partly done.
A somewhat qualified welcome for this disc, then. However, no one should be in any doubt as to the quality of this choir. A recording by them of Rachmaninov's All Night Vigil might well be something rather special.