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Romuald TWARDOWSKI (b. 1930)
Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (2007) [69.14]
Deacon - Petro Hrekov (bass)
Priest – Roman Puchko (tenor)
Chamber Choir “Kyiv”/Mykola Hobdych
rec. Trinity Church, Kiev, September 2007

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I must confess that Romuald Twardowski is a name that is new to me. Despite having a quite a number of Acte Préalable CDs, this Polish composer does not yet seem to have made it into Gramophone Magazine. Twardowski studied in Vilnius in the 1950s and 1960s then continued his training in Paris with Nadia Boulanger. Since that time he has been firmly based in Poland. Though a Roman Catholic, he has written many works for the Russian Orthodox Church.

His Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom came about because of the composer’s friendship with Mykola Hobdych, the musical director of the Ukrainian group Chamber Choir Kyiv (Kiev Chamber Choir). The work was commissioned in 2005 and received its first complete performance in 2008 in Kiev. Fragments of the work had been premiered the previous year.

A composer’s freedom is relatively limited when it comes to settings of the Russian Orthodox Liturgy. Other composers such as Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff have managed to put their personal stamp on settings of the Liturgy. Another problem is what the composer describes as the ‘mosaic like form of the liturgy’. It consists of 19 movements. Twardowski solves this by treating groups of movements as fragments of a larger form so that he feels the work breaks down into three larger-scale meta-movements comprising movements 1 to 6, 7 to 11 and 12 to 19. I must confess to being unclear as to how this would affect the work if it was used in liturgical performances. However, what we are considering here is simply a concert event. The work seems to have been conceived of as a concert work so we must treat it as such.

Twardowski’s approach to the work is essentially Romantic and conservative; his is not a dramatically modern setting. Instead he has brought a melodic felicity and a freshness of harmony to the traditional aural world of the liturgy. Twardowski's Liturgy sounds like Russian Orthodox music and at first it is difficult to detect the composer’s personality. Gradually you notice small gestures and harmonic shifts which are indicative of a 20th century slant.

Twardowski does not take the route of someone like Alfred Schnittke. Schnittke in his Choral Concerto uses traditional Orthodox psalm melodies but gives them a very 20th century treatment, sometimes taking the music, singers and listeners to extremes. Twardowski eschews extremes and creates his own path within a more traditional context.

Twardowski has given us a work which has a very genuine spiritual feel. This is important is settings of this type of Liturgy. Not only must the composer respect the needs of tradition but he must create a feeling of religious devotion even in a concert context. This happens admirably here. Just listening to this CD transports you to the dark environment of an Russian Orthodox church.

Twardowski is ably supported by Hobdych and his choir who sing the music to the manner born. If Twardowski’s style stretches them at times, then they don’t show it. More importantly, they sound as if they have been singing the music for ever. The performance comes over with a directness and naturalness which is entirely admirable. The general choral sound is remarkably western in timbre, without too much of that extreme vibrato which afflicts Slavic choirs. The choir does however differs from many western choirs in that it has some wonderfully rich dark bass voices, which the composer uses to great effect.

The CD includes the composer’s note on the work along with information on the performers. There is no libretto, so if you want to know what the singers are singing about you will have to do some research.

If you are interested in contemporary music you might find this disc a little retro. If you are flexible in your tastes then please do try this disc. A contemporary Roman Catholic Polish composer’s take on a Russian Orthodox Liturgy sung by a chamber choir based in the Ukraine might not seem like an ideal combination. But trust me: it is. If you enjoy choral music then buy this disc.
Robert Hugill






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