Ikon II
Nickolay GOLOVANOV (1891-1958) Our Father Op. 9 No. 3 [3:41]
Pavel CHESNOKOV (1877-1944) Salvation is created Op. 25, No 5 [2:47];Let my prayer arise Op 24 No 6 [6:09];Let thy good spirit Op. 25 No 10 [2:13];Bless the Lord, O my soul [2:42];Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous Op. 25 No 6 [2:07];All of creation rejoices in you Op. 15 No 11 [3:39];We have no other help Op. 25 No 8 [2:11]
Aleksandr GRECHANINOV (1864-1956) Of thy mystical supper Op. 58 No 7 [5:09]
Konstantin SHVEDOV (1886-1954) The Cherubic Hymn Op. 13 [4:49];
The Thrice-Holy Op. 7 [3:14]
Pyotr TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893) Come, let us worship - from Op. 41 [2:15]
Victor KALINNIKOV (1870-1927) Come, let us worship Op 11 [1:04]; We hymn thee Op. 7 [1:31];Rejoice, O Virgin Op. 17 [1:10];We hymn thee Op. 2 [1:49]
Nikolay TOLSTIAKOV (1883-1958) Bless the Lord, O my soul Op 1, No 1 [3:16]
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908) Our Father Op. 22 No 7 [2:01]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943) Rejoice, O Virgin Op. 37 No 6 [3:09]
Mili BALAKIREV (1837-1910) Let all mortal flesh keep silence [5:17]
Aleksandr KASTALSKY (1856-1926) Radiant Light Op. 73 [2:51]
César CUI (1835-1918) Song of the Most Holy Theotokos (Magnificat) [8:17]
Holst Singers/Stephen Layton
rec. 8-11 January, 2010, All Hallows, Gospel Oak, London DDD
Russian texts (transliterated) and English translations included
HYPERION CDA67756 [71:35]
This is follow-up to the same artists’ excellent and stimulating disc entitled Ikon (CDA66928). A long time has elapsed since that first CD, which was made as far back as 1996, and which I acquired at the time. The content of the first programme was rather different from what’s on offer this time around. The original recital included pieces by Tchaikovsky and a couple by Grechaninov but for the most part more modern composers such as Georgy Sviridov (b. 1915), Arvo Pärt and Henryk Górecki took the compositional honours. This time Stephen Layton has chosen a good deal of music by composers who were linked to Moscow’s Synodal School of Church Singing and whose musical output was primarily - and in some cases exclusively - liturgical. He’s interspersed their music with liturgical pieces by some of the major Russian composers, best known for their secular output.
The offerings by Rachmaninov - a well-known excerpt from his All Night Vigil - and Tchaikovsky will be familiar to many collectors. For the rest, however, I suspect that few people other than specialist collectors - and members of the Orthodox Church - will know this music. It’s fascinating to hear liturgical works by composers such as Rimsky - his setting of The Lord’s Prayer is simple, direct and touching. And what a contrast between this sincere small-scale piece and the vibrantly colourful orchestral scores of his to which we’re so accustomed! Cui’s Magnificat, which closes the programme, is a fascinating work. The music is elaborate and dramatic by comparison with much of the remainder of the programme. Ivan Moody suggests in his most interesting notes that the piece has more of the concert hall than the church about it. It’s an ambitious and impressive composition.
I freely confess that I’ve not even heard of several of the composers represented here, let alone heard their music. I have come across Grechaninov’s music before, most notably his moving Passion Week (review). Here, Layton and his choir offer his Of thy mystical supper, a very beautiful setting of the communion hymn for Holy Thursday. This is very devotional music and the Holst Singers do it really well, their performance culminating in rapt singing of the repeated word ‘Aliluiya’ at the end.
Pavel Chesnokov is represented by several pieces. The melodic interest in Let my prayer arise is given to an alto solo - in this performance all the altos of the choir sing the line. Layton’s altos respond with fervent singing while the rest of the choir surround their line with dark-hued choral textures. All of the Chesnokov pieces in this programme are beautifully crafted and receive polished performances.
It may be objected that an English choir can’t match the Slavonic timbres but I must say that the Holst Singers do a very convincing job throughout, It’s some forty years since I acquired a smattering of Russian - now largely forgotten - so I can’t claim any real degree of expertise with the language but it sounds to me as if their Russian pronunciation is good. There can be no complaints about the tone they produce - still less about the sheer quality of the singing. And while no doubt a Russian choir would produce even more authentic-sounding performances - though perhaps not so skilled and sensitive - I don’t feel in the slightest short-changed by the singing on offer here. To see what I mean sample Kalinnikov’s Rejoice, O Virgin (‘Bogoroditse Devo’) and hear how the choir’s deep, tolling bass voices underpin the choral textures magnificently.
The most celebrated piece on the programme is Rachmaninov’s wonderful setting of the selfsame text. Layton and his singers deliver a wonderful, rapt account of this music, which they build to a majestic climax.
This is largely music that’s off the beaten track as far as most Western collectors will be concerned. But, unfamiliar as it may be it’s also very rewarding to hear. The quality of the music is high and the quality of the performances is, if anything, higher still. Stephen Layton has obviously prepared his fine choir superbly for this assignment and they deliver superb, sonorous and idiomatic performances. The Hyperion engineers have played a full part by capturing the singing in atmospheric, clear sound.
John Quinn
Unfamiliar but very rewarding music in superb, sonorous and idiomatic performances.