The cover of this disc may mislead some people, as it misled
me. At first sight one might assume that the recording consists
of Rachmaninov’s two great settings of Russian Orthodox liturgical
music. It’s only when one looks at the back of the package that
one sees, in rather small type the word “extraits”.
Actually, I’m a little bit puzzled because the very opening
of the booklet note reads as follows: “We are currently celebrating
the centenary of the first performance of the Liturgy [of
St John Chrysostom] in March 1910.” I wonder why Laurence
Equilbey didn’t offer us a complete performance of that work.
Instead she’s selected seven of the work’s twenty movements
and the disc also includes eight of the fifteen movements of
the Vespers, as it’s called here, though the more proper
title is All Night Vigil.
So this disc isn’t aimed at anyone wanting a complete account
of either work. However, for those who wish to sample Rachmaninov’s
liturgical music this offers an excellent introduction. And
the disc is well worth the attention of collectors who have
complete recordings of either or both works already because
the singing is of a very high standard indeed.
Laurence Equilbey’s conducting teachers included Eric Ericson
so it’s a nice idea that she’s combined the forces of her own
admirable Accentus ensemble with the eponymous chamber choir
founded by her teacher. According to the list of performers
Accentus is the larger group, providing thirty-nine of the sixty-three
singers. The combined forces consist of 18 sopranos, 13 altos
and 16 each of tenors and basses. The sound made by the combined
choir is wonderful. Furthermore, they’ve been accorded a very
satisfying recorded sound by the Naïve engineers, who seem to
have used the resonant acoustic of the Paris church of Notre-Dame
du Liban very intelligently and effectively.
The Liturgy of St John Chrysostom is the less well-known
of the two works. Perhaps that’s because, though it contains
some fine music, its sister work is an even more compelling
creation. Here Mlle Equilbey and her singers excel in the extracts
they’ve selected. I really admired the way the terraced entries
are weighted in ‘Hymn of the Cherubim’ – and in this piece,
as in so many on the disc, the vocal lines are sustained marvellously.
The choir achieves a marvellous quiet sonority in the hushed,
rapt ‘We Praise Thee’ and the setting of ‘Our Father’ a chant-like
prayerful piece, is beautifully done.
In the Vespers we hear an excellent, expressive alto
soloist, Joanna Dobrakowska, in ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul’.
She has a good Slavic timbre – but no wobble in the tone! Even
more notable is the contribution of tenor Romain Champion in
the famous ‘Nunc Dimittis’. His plangent, gently ardent tenor
is well suited to the music and the gently swaying choral accompaniment
is expertly judged. At the end the basses descend to their soft,
cavernous bottom B flat without difficulty. The ‘Ave Maria’
is poised and prayerful; I really appreciated the firm and warm
tone of the choir in this movement – and elsewhere. Earlier,
in ‘Blessed is the man’ the performance has a real Russian feel
to it, not least in the repeated prayerful exclamations of ‘Alliluia’.
The selection concludes with the joyful ‘O Queen of the Heavenly
Host’, in which, after all the preceding devotion, genuine excitement
I do have some regret that we only hear extracts from both scores
on this disc. But that regret is more than outweighed by the
pleasure one gets from the fine singing on offer here and on
that basis this CD is well worth acquiring, especially if you
don’t know either work for then Laurence Equilbey and her superb
singers will open your ears to the serene beauties of Rachmaninov’s
liturgical music. The documentation is good and I’m particularly
pleased that a transliteration of the Russian text is provided
as this makes it so much easier to follow the performances.
Liturgy of St John Chrysostom
Bless the Lord, O my soul [4:02]
In Thy Kingdom [5:04]
Hymn of the Cherubim [5:36]
We Praise Thee [2:40]
It is truly meet to bless thee [2:30]
Our Father [3:57]
Praise the Lord from the heavens [1:59]
Bless the Lord, O my soul [4:35]
Blessed is the man [5:26]
O Gladsome light [3:27]
Nunc dimittis [3:41]
Ave Maria [3:01]
Little Doxology [2:20]
Great Doxology [6:47]
Thou didst rise from the tomb [3:43]
O Queen of the Heavenly Host [1:46]