Sunday 26 January 2014

Russian Treasures from Tenebrae

Russian Treasures - Tenebrae/Nigel Short; SIGCD900
Russian Treaures: Tenebrae/Nigel Short: Signum
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 26 2014
Star rating: 3.5

Stunning performances of some rare Russian repertoire.

This new disc from Tenebrae and Nigel Short explores the development of Russian Orthodox Church music which happened in Russia in the late 19th and early 20th century. The most familiar names here are Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov in addition to Alexander Gretchaninov,  Nikolay Golanov,  Pavel Chesnokov,  Viktor Kalinnikov and Nikolay Kedrov. Whilst they include movements from Rachmaninov's Vespers there are no movements from any of Tchaikovsky's best known sacred works.
The big influence behind many of the pieces on this disc was the Moscow Synodal School for Church Music which developed an important role from 1889 when Stepan Smolensky took over. Whilst not all of the composers on the disc were in contact with Smolensky, many were and he helped revitalise the composition of Russian Orthodox Sacred Music.
The disc starts with Alexander Gretchaninov's Nine sili nebesniya from his Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. Gretchaninov studied with Taneyev and Rimsky-Korsakov though you might imagine that it was written earlier, as with much of the music on this disc. The piece is romantic with lovely translucent harmonies.  This is followed by the first of the movements from Rachmaninov's Vespers, Nine otpushchayeshi (Nunc dimittis), in a beautifully smooth performance and a lovely focused tenor solo, soloist Nicholas Madden, and quite a light texture.  

Nikolay Golovanov was born and died the same years as Prokofiev and was an important conductor at the Bolshoi Theatre. He studied at the Moscow Synodal School. His Heruvimskaya  pesn (Cherubic Hymn) was his Op.1 No.1, it is a chant-based piece with rather rich harmonies; a romantic piece but beautifully done.

Priidite, poklonimsia (Come, let us worship) from Rachmaninov's Vespers is sung with brilliant flexible tones. Heruvimskaya pesn (Cherubic Hymn) from the same work is full of beautifully placed widely spaced chords and lovely smooth lines. Tebe poyem (We hymn thee) is from Rachmaninov's Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, the earlier of his large scale sacred pieces. It is a slow contemplative piece with a fine legato texture and some fabulous low notes from the basses.

Golovanov's Slava Ottsu (Glory to the Father) is full of close harmonies and at times reminded me of Arvo Part and receives a lovely intense performance.

Pavel Chesnokov studied with Taneyev and Ippolitov Ivanov. His Svete tihiy (Gladsome Light) is full of lovely high voiced textures. And his Tebe poyem (We hymn thee) is slow deep and contemplative. 
Viktor Kalinnikov was the younger brother of Vasily, also a composer. Viktor taught at the Moscow Synodal School. His Svete tihiy (Gladsome Light) is a mainly homophonic harmonisation of chant but with some supremely lovely chords. 

We return to Rachmaninov's Vespers for Bogoroditse Devo (Ave Maria) and Blazhen muzh (Blessed is the man). The first is a performance of quiet beauty with a lovely build up to the climax, and a great  transparency of texture. The second is flexible but not overly fast and profoundly beautiful.
Rachmaninov's Otche Nash (Our Father) comes from his Liturgy of St John Chrysostom. It is quietly hushed leading to a finely controlled climax. 

Chesnokov's Heruvimskaya pesn (Cherubic Hymn) is light and airy with a high transparent texture, and a fkuid delicate performance.  Golovanov's Otche nash (Our Father) is beautifully controlled with some harmonic interest. Tchaikovsky's Legend is in fact an arrangement of one of his Sixteen Songs for Children Op.54, poised and rather lovely. 

Nikolay Kedrov was trained as a singer and became an operatic baritone. His Otche Nash (Our Father) is hushed and contemplative,  simple but expressive.  Finally Rachmaninov's Vzbrannoy voyevode (To thee, O victorious leader)  the finale from the Vespers in a lively and nicely flowing performance. 

The CD booklet contains an informative article, plus full texts and translations,  though if you want to know the dates of the composers then you have to look elsewhere. 

The music on this disc is inevitably rather conservative, it had to be to fit in with the rules of the Orthodox Church.  Rachmaninov is perhaps the most imaginative on the disc, but many other works on the disc are highly attractive. Though it is repertoire which may not appeal to everyone, the disc helps shed some light on works other than Rachmaninov's Vespers and the performances are stunning, with some finely flexible singing. The choir give highly technically strong account of themselves with some profoundly beautiful and supremely controlled singing.

Alexander Gretchaninov (1864 - 1956) - Nine sili nebesniya [5.40]
Sergey Rachmaninov (1873 - 1943) - Nine otpushchayeshi [3.33]
Nikolay Golovanov (1891 - 1953) - Heruvimskaya [4.35]
Sergey Rachmaninov (1873 - 1943) - Priidite,  poklonimsia [2.07]
Sergey Rachmaninov (1873 - 1943) - Heruvimskaya [4.29]
Sergey Rachmaninov (1873 - 1943) - Tebe poyem [2.21]
Nikolay Golovanov (1891 - 1953) - Slava Ottsu [3.59]
Pavel Chesnokov (1877 - 1944) - Svete tihiy [2.50]
Pavel Chesnokov (1877 - 1944) - Tebe poyem [3.38]
Viktor Kalinnikov (1870 - 1927) - Svete tihiy [2.24]
Sergey Rachmaninov (1873 - 1943) - Bogoroditse Devo [3.06]
Sergey Rachmaninov (1873 - 1943) - Blazhen muzh [5.37]
Sergey Rachmaninov (1873 - 1943) - Otche nash [3.54]
Pavel Chesnokov (1877 - 1944) - Heruvimskaya [2.25]
Nikolay Golovanov (1891 - 1953) - Otche Nash [3.29]
Piotr Tchaikovsky (1840 - 1893) - Legend [2.55]
Nikolay Kedrov (1871 - 1940) - Otche Nash [2.34]
Sergey Rachmaninov (1873 - 1943) - Vzbrannoy voyevode [1.46]
Nigel Short (conductor)
Recorded at the church of St Augustine's Kilburn, 8-9 March 2013
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