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Unto Ages of Ages - Gloriæ Dei Cantores

Unto Ages of Ages - Gloriæ Dei Cantores

Gloriae Dei Cantores  GDCD 047

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Vocal


Rachmaninov: All-Night Vigil, Tchaikovsky: Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Sviridov

Gloriæ Dei Cantores
Elizabeth Patterson (conductor)


Gloriæ Dei Cantores first recording in Super Audio CD featuring the North American recorded premiere of Georgy Sviridov's Ineffable Mystery, a gorgeous sacred choral suite. In his memory, the choir sang this set of pieces in Moscow and the Golden Ring on their third tour of Russia in 1998. Georgy Sviridov,who was one of Shostakovich's favorite students, wrote the music for Moscow's leading television news program and became one of the leading composers during the Soviet regime. His vocal music has been championed by Dmitri Hvorostovsky, the great Russian baritone. Gloriæ Dei Cantores, having already recorded "the best anthology of Russian music" (American Record Guide for Sacred Songs of Russia), now adds this rich collection of Russian sacred music to their discography. Also included are excerpts from the Tchaikovsky's Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and the Rachmaninoff All-Night Vigil. These three composers and their works form a CD not to be missed by choral and Russian music fans.

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Review by John Miller - October 7, 2009

Gloria Dei Cantores is one of North America's finest non-professional choirs, with a fine string of CDs behind them, covering a wide repertoire of sacred music through the ages. This is their first SACD, which is very encouraging. It is devoted to the great tradition of Russian Orthodox musical worship, which goes back over a thousand years, and highlights the major contributions of Tchaikovsky (4 excerpts from his Liturgy of St John Chrysostom Op. 41 of 1878) and Rachmaninov (5 excerpts from his All Night Vigil Op. 17 of 1915). It also includes the first N American recording of 'Ineffable Mystery' by Georgy Sviridov (1915-1998).

Tchaikovsky's attempts to fully harmonise the ancient znameny and other later chants were strongly opposed by Church authorities, particularly the Imperial Chapel, which had a monopoly on publication of sacred music. This affair eventually ended up in court with the Church winning, but non-liturgical performances of Tchaikovsky's Liturgy proved so popular that the opposition was eventually withdrawn. The excerpts here demonstrate Tchaikovsky's deep love for the old chants, and his settings glow with passion and drama, with up to seven parts (often dividing within each voice). Basically homophonic (chordal), they burst into a thrilling polyphonic texture at the end of the Communion Hymn, where the spatial separation of the choir sections is beautifully captured.

Rachmaninov's All Night Vigil (often known as the Vespers) is perhaps the best known in the West of these later Orthodox compositions. His fluid voice lines and richly romantic harmonies perfectly capture the power and poetry of the devotional texts, and the 40 voices of Gloria Dei Cantores make a very good imitation of that special sound of Orthodox choirs, with great intensity of tone colour and vibrant emotional expression. They have a strong bass-baritone line, which descends on a diminuendo to the lowest B flat of their range in "Lord, now lettest thou..." Indeed, the choir as a whole display remarkable depth of tone in their frequent very soft passages, but are also able to burst forth with a pure and ringing sound in the moments of joy and celebration. Some of the slow movements in the Vespers, however, find the otherwise fine soloists pushed to the limits of their breath control, notably in "Lord, now lettest thou", which director Elizabeth C. Patterson takes at a very slow 4'22 compared with Paul Hillier's more flowing 3'32. At the faster speed, there is also a better feeling of the lullaby-like rocking rhythm which pervades the music.

Sviridov was Shostakovich's favourite and most talented pupil. In Leningrad he mainly worked on film scores, but his career gained in importance when he moved to Moscow, dutifully providing the kind of music required by the Soviet. True to himself, he sometimes managed to pass off sacred pieces, his passion, as rote propaganda works. Between 1980 and 1995 he managed to compile a collection of Hymns and Prayers, from which the six-movement suite "Ineffable Mystery" was formed. Sviridov heard Gloriae Dei Cantores on one of their Russian tours and presented them with the score, but he died shortly before they returned to sing it. It is clear from their expressive and moving performance here that they have a special connection with the work. Its style owes much to Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff, but with just enough harmonic spice and melodic shaping to reveal its post-Romantic origins. A beautiful and most welcome addition to the SACD discography.

The choir's many CDs have been recorded in their home, the Church of the Transfiguration, Orleans, MA. This is a very large reverberant building, and its sometimes adverse effect on the choir's recorded articulation and definition has been noted by critics. This 5.0 multichannel capture, in PCM 24/96, however, seems to have addressed many of these problems; the sound is very well-placed in the acoustic with plenty of the essential atmosphere but preserving much clarity. It copes well with a very wide dynamic range, maintaining plenty of subtle textural detail even when singing is very hushed. I would have liked a little more back-to-front perspective on the choir group, however, which tends to sound more like a solid block of tone, until the different sections emerge separately. Of course, this music was written for large (and dimly lit) reverberant buildings, where the choirs voices floated down from balconies in the gloom, melding with the glow of gold encrusted icons and scent of incense to create the mystic atmosphere of the Orthodox faith. That's not quite captured here, but a good compromise between atmosphere and definition.

Paraclete Press's production is excellent, with a very full booklet just fitting into the jewel-case. This is beautifully appointed in black with pale coloured texts, including transliteration of the Church Slavonic paired with English translations, all decorated with coloured illustrations of appropriate iconography. Most helpful detailed descriptions of the music are included, together with biographical information.

This splendid disc would make an ideal introduction to Russian Orthodox choral music for first-time listeners, who might then go on to listen to the full works by Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov. More experienced listeners will buy it for the Sviridov. There is no doubt of the fervent faith and commitment of the performers, which is convincingly transmitted by the high-definition recording.

Copyright © 2009 John Miller and HRAudio.net

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