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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
The Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom (1910) [77:39]
Corydon Singers/Matthew Best
rec. St Alban’s Church, Holborn, London 19, 22, 28 November 1993, 7 April 1994. DDD
HYPERION HELIOS CDH55318 [77:39]
Experience Classicsonline

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 has for various reasons always escaped my attention. I have to admit to having missed a wonderful a capella choral experience. This work is much less-known and less-frequently recorded than the composer’s All-Night Vigil (or Vespers), regarded as one of the great monuments of Russian sacred music.
 
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. The work 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 Rachmaninov’s creativity.
 
I commend John Leeman’s erudite and technically accomplished appraisal of this week within his review of the competing 2003 EMI recording with the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge conducted by Stephen Cleobury.
 
Intensely moving performance of great Russian sacred music.
 
Ian Lace
 


 


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