Sheehan: Vespers - The Saint Tikhon Choir
Cappella Romana CR422
Classical - Vocal
Benedict Sheehan: Vespers
The Saint Tikhon Choir
Benedict Sheehan (conductor)
Inspired by Rachmaninoff ’s All-Night Vigil, Sheehan’s unique musical and linguistic expression expands the genre. He adorns full-length Psalms and hymns with a deep understanding of beauty, faith, and humanity.
Vespers also features virtuosic vocal concertos, including the first for basso profundo in English. Engage with this music that projects a vision of hope and light for all.
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Review by Adrian Quanjer - November 30, 2021
In the field of Orthodox church music, Benedict Sheehan is not only a widely acclaimed conductor, with this new release he proves, and not for the first time, that he is also a highly competent composer. And perhaps above all, that he is a scholar of note. Like his previous successful enrichment of the Orthodox catalogue (Sheehan: Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom - The Saint Tikhon Choir), his Vespers leans heavily on his vast and authoritative knowledge of Traditional Russian Orthodox Chant. Taking this time Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil as a model, or rather as a modus operandi, he manages to bring tradition closer to today's religious minds in a modernized musical language most of us can understand. Moreover, he shares with us his knowledge in his particularly well-developed liner notes. And for those with a statistical interest, this is his fourth compositional contribution to a thriving American Orthodox community.
Not everyone searching this site for worthwhile additions to their religious library may be fluent in traditional Russian. Lovers of this genre will therefore appreciate that Sheehan’s Vespers is sung in English (Translations from the late Donald Sheehan). Full texts are provided in the booklet with the added advantage of explanatory notes making it more easily accessible to all those with a new or awakening interest in Orthodox liturgical chant. Reading is a must for understanding and subsequent gratification.
In its relatively short six years of existence, the Saint Tikhon Choir, with Chorusmasters Talia Sheehan & Zoe Turton joining for this project, has gained wide recognition for its professionalism and deeply, personally involved musicianship. Under the passionate leadership of Benedict Sheehan, it has carved out a distinct place at the top of American Orthodox choirs, at par with other famous choral formations like the PaTRAM Institute Male Choir: Chesnokov: Teach me thy statutes (Hymns from the all-night vigil and divine liturgy) - Gorbik, and ditto Singers: Sheehan: Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom - The Saint Tikhon Choir, as well as Cappella Romana from Portland, Oregon: Hymns of Kassianí - Cappella Romana. The soloists are entirely drawn from the members of the choir but do - in their own right - belong to some of the best solo singers America has on offer, including the unique American Basso Profundo, Glenn Miller.
The opening Psalm immediately sets the tone in all its meanings. A wonderful combination of male and female voices, rich and beautifully shaped, is the ideal background over which the baritone of the lead singer Michael Hawes and fine countertenor of Timothy Parsons seems to be hovering. In the following parts, I searched, for the sake of honest reviewing, for weak moments. I couldn’t find any, other than that the variety of Sheehan’s Vespers, might give different listeners different moments of appreciation.
I was particularly struck by the central elements V and VI bearing magically mysterious Middle Eastern characteristics over a single-toned, but deeply moving baseline. I was also much impressed by O Gladsome Light (VII) with Fotina Naumenko’s soprano in dramatic harmony with the choristers. But the Evening Prayer (IX) tops my list of refined artistry; this is choral singing at its most exquisite. The bottom line is that Benedict Sheehan has in all evidence succeeded in creating once more a fresh and vibrant view to Eastern Orthodox chant in all its glowing colours. The work is dedicated to Archimandrite Sergius, Abbot of St. Tikhon’s Monastery.
Finally, there shouldn’t be the slightest doubt about the missing link to perfection: The quality of the recording. Cappella Records has put all their faith in Soundmirror and producer Blanton Alspaugh, with Brandon Johnson and John Newton engineering and Mark Donahue doing the mixing and the mastering. The July 2021 recording took place at St. Stephen’s Pro-Cathedral, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, with an extremely well-done balance and subtle use of reverberation.
Needless to say that Sheehan and Company made my (Sun)day.
Blangy-le-Château, Normandy, France.
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