More Honourable than the Cherubim
Russian sacred works by Chesnokov, Dinev, Grechaninov, Rachmaninov, Trubachev et al
PaTRAM Institute Male Choir/Vladimir Gorbik
Chandos CHSA 5287 (CD/SACD) 71:36 mins
There’s no shortage of Orthodox choral discs, but here is one worth adding to anyone’s collection. The PaTRAM Institute Male Choir, numbering a little over 55 singers drawn from five countries, is an all-adult choir, so the choir’s range of vocal colour is shades of dark chocolate without the bursts of treble sunlight we may expect from works such as Rachmaninov’s All-Night Vigil. Yet its well-focused tone ensures that constituent lines are always clear, sympathetically caught in this recording in the resonant but not too lively acoustic of the Church of the St Nicholas Monastery in Saratov, Russia.
Perhaps the choir’s USP, though, is the number and quality of its bassi profundi (‘oktavists’). Those deep voices are frequently heard, and when assigned a melodic line are impressively focused as well as resonant, as in Gretchaninov’s ‘K Bogoroditsye prilezhno’, or their imitative entry following tenors and baritones in Chesnokov’s ‘Presvyatei Bogoroditsye’.
The composers featured, many of them still undeservedly little known, were involved in the great renaissance of Orthodox choral music shortly before the Revolution. Even familiar names are represented by lesser-known gems. Rachmaninov’s ‘V molitvakh neusïlayushchuyu Bogoroditsy’, an ambitious work involving a masterful range of choral textures, shows that aged 18 he was already well-steeped in the Orthodox tradition. The superb performance of this, and indeed the entire programme, makes this an outstanding album all round.