NOT THE 1812
DAVID BRYSON | Glossop Derbyshire England | 11/30/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"When Tchaikovsky produced his Liturgy of St John Chrysostom in 1878, despite a legal challenge from the Imperial Chapel whose permission he and his publisher had neglected to obtain, the Tsar remarked to him that he was surprised Tchaikovsky had not done more church music. Tchaikovsky no doubt knew which hints were worth taking, and he turned out a number of other items in 1884-5 and 1887, 10 of which are on this disc.
The `Liturgy' equates more or less to the Catholic Mass. Like the Mass it comes in a `standard' version and a number of others for special occasions, the St John Chrysostom version being the standard one. The 10 choral numbers from it are given here, with the solos for the celebrant and deacon, and the litanies sung antiphonally by celebrant and choir, being omitted. Preceding these on the record you will find the other 10 items mentioned above, mostly isolated items from the Chrysostom Liturgy in fresh settings. These are slightly more elaborate and more solemn in tone than the main setting, with a little more polyphony and a little more word-repetition, but in general Tchaikovsky's a capella music is easy to grasp and much less severe in style than the unaccompanied motets of Bach and Brahms. There are no fugues or anything of that kind, and the longer sequences such as the Creed and the Lord's Prayer are despatched very briskly indeed. The Orthodox Liturgy is a lengthy affair, and I dare say that even the most devout congregation would have thanked the composer for restraining his muse to some extent.
I would very much have liked to give this disc 5 stars, but I find I can't quite make myself do it. The articulation is very clear, and some of the singing is very good indeed, particularly sustained bass notes although even here I found myself yearning slightly for some `real' Russian bass timbre. The recording may be part of the problem, and it could be that the intention was to provide a churchy acoustic, but the overall result is a certain dullness in the tone. I found it helped to boost the volume a little, but what I couldn't edit out was some very indifferent soprano sound on the higher notes, which are not even all that high. I refer to the choral sound. In the item with three soprano soloists these perform reasonably well, although I could not say I thought their voices were wonderful.
The liner note provides a very good little introduction to the music, and the Russian is very sensibly given in Roman script with English translation. Nothing at all is said about the performers, the introduction is also translated into French and German but the texts are not, at least in the version of the note issued in England and, I can only suppose, in America."