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More Honourable than the Cherubim
PaTRAM Institute Male Choir/Vladimir Gorbik
rec. August 2019, Church of the St Nicholas Monastery, Saratov, Russia
Reviewed as a 24/96 download from
Pdf booklet includes sung texts and translations (Cyrillic & English)

Once the preserve of Russia’s Orthodox churches, this rich choral tradition has now found some fine exponents further west. Several conductors/ensembles spring to mind, among them the Phoenix and Kansas City Chorales, led by Charles Bruffy. I first heard them in Gretchaninoff’s Passion Week, a much-cherished Chandos release that was also one of my top picks for 2007. They followed that up in 2014, with a similarly successful account of Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil. (My comparative review was headlined by a 2012 BIS recording of the same work, featuring Kaspars Putniņš and the Netherlands Radio Choir. This is yet another partnership that excels in this repertoire.) Staying Stateside, there’s Craig Hella Johnson and Conspirare, whose 2013 album, The Sacred Spirit of Russia, was ‘a joy from start to finish’ (Harmonia Mundi). And one mustn’t overlook Alexander Lingas and his Oregon-based Cappella Romana, whose own-label recording of Maximilian Steinberg’s Passion Week so impressed John Quinn back in 2015.

Then, a few years ago, I had the privilege of reviewing Teach Me Thy Statutes, an unforgettable performance of music by Pavel Chesnokov (Reference Recordings). Not only did it open the door on a composer whose music I barely knew, it also introduced me to conductor Vladimir Gorbik and the male choir of the Patriarch Tikhon Russian American Music Institute (PaTRAM). As the name implies, this group is made up of professionals from both countries, whose radiant, deeply felt singing prompted me to declare: ‘Quite simply, choral albums don’t come much better than this.’ Factor in exemplary engineering from the Soundmirror team - also responsible for the Rachmaninoff and Chesnokov releases - and it’s no wonder the latter was one of my Recordings of the Year for 2018.

Nearly all the works in More Honourable than the Cherubim are new to me, but, as I soon discovered, there’s so much to enjoy here. Indeed, the opener, Petar Dinev’s ‘It Is Truly Meet’ has a purity of tone and certainty of line that augurs well for what’s to come. One of the most striking things about Chesnokov, as revealed in Teach Me Thy Statutes, is the sheer strength and consistency of his work. That’s borne out by ‘O Theotokos, We Shall Never Cease Proclaiming’, the first of several contributions to this new collection. Its thrilling weight and amplitude are a pleasing foil to the Dinev; that’s a sign of astute programming. Different again is Gretchaninoff’s ‘Let us Hasten with Fervour’, the burnished, gold-leaf loveliness of this choir sure to ravish the ear and batter the heart. (Such epiphanies move me to say that as much as I admire Pavel Grigorievich’s output, that of Alexander Tikhonovich occupies a very special place in my affections.)

After just a few tracks, it’s clear this is an exceptional release. Gorbik is at once intuitive and inspired, the music-making as finely calibrated as it was in Teach Me Thy Statutes. As for Blanton Alspaugh, John Newton and Byeong-Joon Hwang’s recording, it scarcely feels like one, the listener transported, without effort, to that votive space. And, having just pledged allegiance to the great Gretchaninoff, it’s Chesnokov who tests my loyalties with ‘Let Us Pray to the Most Holy Theotokos’. The soloist, bass-baritone Mikhail Davydov, is haunting, his voice rising above the choir in fervent prayer. It’s an extraordinary effect that suggests the composer knew just how to use perspectives to dramatic/emotional advantage, as did Hector Berlioz before him. Chesnokov and Davydov return later in the programme with ‘Revealing to Thee the Pre-eternal Counsel’, the sound of which is unusually sumptuous – orchestral, even – the singing full-bodied and impeccably blended.

Those two composers – and Rachmaninoff, of course – are the most accomplished and original ones here. That said, their lesser-known counterparts reveal talents of their own. For instance, Boris Ledkovsky’s ‘We Have No Other Help’ is blessed with some of the most gorgeous colours and cadences I know. Compare that with the deftness and vigour of ‘At Thy Deathless Dormition’, by Stepan Degtiariov, or Sergiy Trubachov’s rather austere ‘Troparion to the “Donskoy” Icon of the Theotokos’, the simplicity of which is strangely moving. In each and every piece, I found myself marvelling at the versatility of this choir; not only that, they respond so warmly – and so readily – to their conductor’s sure and sympathetic guidance. The album draws to a close with a setting of ‘It Is Truly Meet’, by Constantine Schvedov, and Nikolai Uvarov’s ‘The Angel Cried Out’, both of which show these singers at their incisive best. The excellent liner-notes complete this most rewarding and desirable package.

A magnificent release, beautifully conducted, flawlessly sung and incredibly well recorded; indeed, it’s sure to be one of my Recordings of the Year.

Dan Morgan

Petar Konstantinov DINEV (1889-1980)
1. It Is Truly Meet [2:53]
Pavel Grigorievich CHESNOKOV (1877-1944)
2. O Theotokos, We Shall Never Cease Proclaiming [3:13]
No. 4 from To the Most Holy Sovereign Lady, Op. 43 (c. 1913)
Alexander Tikhonovich GRETCHANINOFF (1864-1956)
3. Let us Hasten with Fervour [5:56]
Sacred Concerto from Liturgy No. 2, Op. 29 (1902)
Bulgarian Chant
4. O Thou Joy of All the Sorrowful, arr. Mikhail Mikhailovich Popov-Platonov [3:06]
Pavel Grigorievich CHESNOKOV
5. Let Us Pray to the Most Holy Theotokos* [3:55]
No. 1 from To the Most Holy Sovereign Lady, Op. 43
6. O Fervent Intercessor [3:59]
No. 6 from To the Most Holy Sovereign Lady, Op. 43
Serge Vasilyevich RACHMANINOFF (1873-1943)
7. The Theotokos, Who Is Ever-vigilant in Prayer [8:51]
Sacred Concerto (1891)
Sergiy Zosimovich TRUBACHOV (1919-1995)
8. Troparion to the ‘Donskoy’ Icon of the Theotokos [3:00]
Fedor Alekseyevich IVANOV (c. 1855-1920)
9. Do Not Lament Me, O Mother [3:41]
Boris Mikhailovich LEDKOVSKY (1894-1975)
10. We Have No Other Help [5:38]
Sacred Concerto
Stepan Anikiyevich DEGTIARIOV (1766-1813)
11. At Thy Deathless Dormition [8:44]
Sacred Concerto
Sergiy Zosimovich TRUBACHOV
12. Oh, How Sweet Is Thy Voice (1988) [2:10]
Tsar Feodor ALEKSEYEVICH (1661-1682)
13. It Is Truly Meet, arr. 1995, Fr. Matfei (Mormyl’) [2:31]
Putevoy Chant
14. Exaposteilarion for the ‘Kursk Root’ Icon of the Theotokos, arr. Alexander Borisovich Ledkovsky [2:30]
Pavel Grigorievich CHESNOKOV
15. Revealing to Thee the Pre-eternal Counsel*, Op. 40 No. 2 (c. 1912) [3:56]
16. Beneath Thy Compassion [3:16]
No. 5 from To the Most Holy Sovereign Lady, Op. 43
Constantine Nikolaevich SHVEDOV (1886-1954)
17. It Is Truly Meet [1:52]
From Liturgy No. 1 (1913)
Nikolai Matveyevich UVAROV (1883-1942)
18. The Angel Cried Out [2:14]
*Mikhail Davydov (bass-baritone)

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