O Gladsome Light
Virpi LEPPÄNEN (b. 1943)
Praise ye the name of the Lord [2:51]
O Gladsome Light [3:13]
Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy on us [3:25]
Miko SIDOROFF (b. 1985)
Valamo Suite [9:36]
Pappismunkki PAAVAL (1914-1988)
Silver Gleam the Wide Lake Waters [1:55]
Ville MATVEJEFF (b. 1986)
The Wanderer’s Song [11:57]
O taste and see [3:11]
Resurrectional troparion I [0:59]
Resurrectional troparion II [1:54]
Johann von GARDNER (1898-1984)
Let all mortal flesh keep silence [4:08]
O Gladsome Light [3:02]
Blessed is the man whom thou choosest [4:38]
Krysostomos Chamber Choir/Mikko Sidoroff
rec. 27-29 January 2011, Church of the Transfiguration of Christ, New Valamo, Finland
ALBA NCD44 [52:53]
The Finnish chamber choir Krysostomos was created ten years ago by its current conductor, Mikko Sidoroff, in order to perform one of his own works. Specialising in Orthodox music, part of the choir’s mission is to promote new works written within that style and tradition. Twenty-three names figure on the list of members, and to judge from the booklet photographs, they are all comparatively young. Their singing is ardent and committed, clear in sound rather than rich, and sometimes just a little raw. The texts are in Finnish, so you will hear quite a few flat, open vowels of just the kind choirmasters further south ask their singers to avoid. As is often the way with choirs from near the Arctic Circle, the singing is pretty much vibrato free, so tuning is crucial; it is near-perfect on this disc.
The choir is recorded quite close to the listener, so everything is clear and clean, in spite of the lightly resonant church acoustic. The booklet provides all the Finnish words, with English translation, alongside an interesting essay on the origins of Orthodox music in Finland and biographical sketches of each composer. Titles are given in Finnish, but I have transcribed only the English titles here. In my defence I cite the time it would have taken to copy out the originals, and to support my case – and knowing that some readers will want to explore further this excellent choir – here is the website: www.kamarikuorokrysostomos.fi.
Of the three works by Leppänen that open the collection, the first two are unmistakeably Orthodox in origin, if rather less static than we are used to from such composers as Gretchaninov. Praise ye the name of the Lord is particularly attractive, and features, as do many of these pieces, repeated Hallelujahs. Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy on us, on the other hand, in form and effect resembles an Anglican chant.
Valano Suite, by the choir’s conductor, is clearly more of a concert work, though with strong liturgical associations and influences. The Orthodox style is still very much in evidence, with very little in the way of counterpoint, and with harmonies that move over held pedal notes, above, below or within the texture. The second song of the suite, “Blessed is the man”, makes affecting use of contrasting blocks of women’s and men’s voices. Silver Gleam the Wide Lake Waters, by Archbishop Paavali, is a simple, strophic song in folk style. The hummed opening notes of The Wanderer’s Song announce a musical work more advanced in style and vocabulary and still further removed from the Orthodox atmosphere. The work makes effective use of long, held pedal notes in the lower voices, and the basses of this excellent choir are veritable anchors of security here. It is important to note, however, that this does not sound like a Russian choir. The sheer weight and force that characterises many Russian choirs is absent, though the solidity and security are not. The soprano tone above the stave is occasionally a little harsh in this piece, but the overall effect is convincing and authentic. The work itself – the longest on the disc – is very beautiful indeed and well worth getting to know in this remarkable performance by the choir for which it was composed.
Last on the disc come three pieces by Johann von Gardner. These are in an older, less innovative style than much of what has gone before. The work that gives the disc its overall title is particularly affecting in its sonorous, grave beauty, and the final Hallelujahs of Blessed is the man whom thou choosest, despite not coming to rest on the chord one quite expects, bring this beautiful and fascinating disc to a close in the utmost calm.
William Hedley
An unusual collection of Finnish Orthodox music, with fine singing from a young choir.