If you have been seduced by Silvestrov’s orchestral music - and I admit to a complete infatuation with the Fifth Symphony - then his vocal music may intrigue you. It’s inevitable that citations of near-contemporaries and stylistic neighbours, such as Pärt and Kancheli, are made, though they are not always wholly relevant. Silvestrov’s music for voice is seldom static, rather it is ecstatic, full of expressive gestures and a feeling of both deep-rootedness and also - simultaneously - a remarkable lightness. This can’t easily be explained, but it strikes one repeatedly. Partly it’s to do with the varied vocal textures Silvestrov employs, and his use of vocal soloists adds to this sense of personalisation. Partly too it’s the nature of the texts that he sets. Mainly, though, it’s to do with his remarkable ear for sonority.
His sacred music is compact, full of incident, and remarkably bathed in lyric impulse. The Alleluia, from the Four Spiritual Songs, is richly affirmative. But listen to Bless the Lord, O my soul, where we find that the deep basses, so redolent of Orthodoxy, are subject to Silvestrov’s drifting harmonies to create a very specific and powerful, expressive mood, one that owes nothing to ‘Holy Minimalism’ and everything to a subtle sound and rhythmic palette. The vocal lines in The Creed roll ever-onward either singly or in complex-sounding conjunctions and configurations, creating a sense of motion wholly at odds with ideas of mere plangency and vertical patterns. This can be heard too in the Cherubic Hymn where urgency and a compensatory slowing down are held in balance. If you suspect that a ‘halo’ of sound is the constituent feature of a disc such as this, you will think again, given the active components of the writing.
It’s true that effulgent gentleness floods the Ave Maria, but then, why should it not? And the melancholy spaces in the first of the Psalms of David are notable too. For Silvestrov at his most simply affecting you should turn to the Testament, the second of his Diptych, written in 1995 to a poem by Taras Shevchenko.
Texts are not provided. The recorded sound is marvellously vivid, the performances ranging from bass-hewn Eastern Orthodoxy to Elysian refinement, carried on the winds of Silvestrov’s meaningful harmonic shifts. A splendid disc then, for those open to its riches.
Liturgical Chants (2005)
Four Spiritual Songs - Christmas Song [1:36]: Dithyrambic Song [1:27]: Cherubic Song [1:20]: Alleluia [1:43]
Bless the Lord O my Soul [3:58]
O Holy God [2:52]
The Creed [6:40]
Hymn of the Cherubs [2:59]
The Beatitudes [6:24]
Ave Maria [2:25]
Two Spiritual Songs (2006) Alleluia [2:36]: Ave Maria [3:20]
Two Spiritual Chants (2006) A Mercy of Peace [3:41]: To Thee We Sing [2:10]
Two Psalms of David (2006) Fret Not Thyself Because of the Ungodly (Psalm 37) [3:48]:
O Praise God in His Sanctuary (Psalm 150) [2:33]
Diptych (1995) The Lord's Prayer [3:55]: Testament (From the Poems of T.H. Shevchenko) [6:13]
Alleluia (2006) Evening [1:29]: Morning [1:56]: Night [2:34]