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Sacred Russian Choral Works
Akafist Male Choir/Andrei V. Malutin
rec. 1993, Philadelphia, USA. DDD

Devotees of Russian choral music will recognise the names of many of the composers here, most of whose lives spanned the mid-nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries. They were as such instrumental in the revival of Russian liturgical music via the conservatories. Other selections are drawn from traditional Znamenny and Kiev chants of the Russian Orthodox Church. Thus this bargain compilation makes an excellent introduction to an idiom which remains highly attractive to Western listeners whose ears are less used to the peculiarly resonant and plaintive timbre of real Russian choirs singing music of a highly “vertical” character.

If I have any reservations regarding what appears to be the first issue of a recording made over twenty years ago in Philadelphia and in good digital sound, it is that the choir, although absolutely authentic sounding, is rather small to do complete justice to the massive, hieratic dignity of these works. They number only fifteen, plus two additional soloists in two items, perhaps because they were on tour. Furthermore, although this all-male choir of professional singers is wonderfully homogeneous and features pure-toned counter-tenors down to real black Russian basses with a resonant low A at their command, when individuals step forward to sing solos their tone is not always very grateful. We hear, for example, some quite nasal and abrasive tenors in tracks 13 and 15, singing in the worst Russian tradition. That is all the more surprising when one notes that the tenor soloist in the latter appears to have been specifically imported into the choir for that track. Nor is the bass soloist in track 16 very satisfactory, being rather grainy and undistinguished.

As much as I otherwise enjoyed this anthology, there are others which are also bargain-priced, better sung and offer a more varied and interesting selection. I would especially recommend the Naxos "Russian Chant for Vespers” (8.553123) sung by the incredibly rich-toned and animated Novospassky Monastery Choir, recorded in the same year as this Akafist recital. For purposes of comparison, listen to the opening track on their CD on which is sung almost the same music as on this Hänssler disc. You will hear that there is much more swing, exultancy and energy in the Novospassky choir, whereas the Akafist sound too restrained and correct. Otherwise, there are alternative compilations such as the series “Sacred Treasures – Choral Masterworks from Russia” on the “Hearts of Space” label, licensed from Adagio recordings, which, although there are some hissy analogue tracks, really gives a better flavour of this great Russian tradition.

No texts or annotations are provided beyond a brief biography of the director and his choir.
Ralph Moore

Track listing
1. Easter Troparion
2. God is with us (Zinoviev)
3. Vouchsafe, O Lord
4. Blessed is the Man (Ledkovsky)
5. Lord, I call upon You
6. Troparion of Repentance (Archangelsky)
7. Hymn of Simeon the Just (Kastalsky)
8. From my Youth (Chesnokov)
9. Kondak to the Mother of God (Schvedov)
10. Archangel’s Voice (Schorin)
11. From my Youth
12. O gladsome Light
13. Hiermos to the Mother of God (Golovanov*)
14. Beatitudes (Christov)
15. Hymn of the Resurrection (Chesnokov)
16. Litia Ektenia (Chesnokov)
17. The Creed (Grechaninov)
18. Pascal Canon, the Angel cried (Makarov)
19. Who is so great a God as our God
20. Molebin Prayer of St. Ambrose (Bortniansky)
(*misspelt as “Golonov” in the credits)