This recording was originally released,
in the mid-1990s as Hyperion CDA66703. Regular readers will
be aware that Helios is Hyperion’s reissue label.
I have always been an enthusiastic admirer of the works
of Rachmaninov but The Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom
for various reasons always escaped my attention. I have to
admit to having missed a wonderful a capella
experience. This work is much less-known and less-frequently
recorded than the composer’s All-Night Vigil
regarded as one of the great monuments of Russian sacred
The Liturgy in the Russian sense is the equivalent of
the Western Church’s Mass. In these modern times, there are
four forms of the Liturgy in use by the Eastern Church. The
Liturgy of St John Chrysostom is the usual form, used on
Sundays and days of the week. The other three forms are used
less often – or on special days or in specific locations. Through The
Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom
a Celebrant or Deacon
chants the text in traditional plainsong (antiphon
followed by Rachmaninov’s choral responses.
is divided into twenty sections here. There are occasional
multiple responses within a section.
For this recording Peter Scorer sings the drone-like
supplications of the Deacon in velvety ‘dark chocolate’ tones
that, to my ears, sound very much in the authentic Russian
tradition. The Corydon’s responses, in impeccable ensemble,
are reverential, lovingly phrased and spaciously recorded
in the St Albans splendid acoustic.
To comment on just a few of the 20 tracks - first, the
three Antiphons following the introductory ‘Great Litany’.
The First Antiphon – ‘Bless the Lord , O my soul’ has a lovely,
long-breathed melody that unfolds unhurriedly, the part-writing
beautifully structured and contoured. The Second Antiphon – ‘Glory
be to the Father – Only-begotten son’ is more animated and
emphatic – a joyous ring of glorification to the Lord. The
Third Antiphon – ‘In Your Kingdom’ opens with angelic women’s
voices the gist of the Beatitudes being sung with the melody
lilting and, at times, almost carol-like to western ears. The
Cherubic Hymn (track 8) has a lovely soprano lullaby, the
music rocking slowly, serenely over a grounding men’s bass
line. About half way through, the tempo quickens into celebratory
mood before calming alleluias - a lovely coda this. ‘The
Creed’ (track 10) is most affecting with beautiful part-writing,
so too is the ‘Eucharistic Prayer’ that follows. The Corydon
Singers’ control over this section’s long-held notes is exemplary. Soprano
soloist, Tanya Wicks’ sweet tones glide high and serenely
over the hushed voices in the equally lovely ‘We praise you’.
The ‘Hymn to the Mother of God’ has a considerable choral
section in consolatory and nurturing mood before short responses
and considerable Cantor chanting. Finally I would mention
the tolling bell-like figures of the ‘Communion Hymn’ and
yet more bell-like figurations in the penultimate section, ‘Blessed
be the name of the Lord’. Bells were a major influence on
I commend John
Leeman’s erudite and technically accomplished appraisal of
this week within his review of the competing 2003 EMI
with the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge conducted
by Stephen Cleobury.
performance of great Russian sacred music.