All-Night Vigil, Op. 52; Hymn to Cyril and Methodius; Legend, Op. 54, No. 5; Jurists’ Song; The angel cried 1887
Latvian Radio Choir/Sigvards Klava
Ondine ODE 1352-2 52:10 mins
Tchaikovsky’s output is dominated to such a degree by his orchestral music, chamber works, operas and to a lesser extent his piano music and songs, that it is easy to overlook his two major contributions to the church music repertoire: the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom (1878, which appeared on the first volume of this project, ODE 1336-2) and All-Night Vigil, completed four years later. It is also easy to forget that Tchaikovsky, although as he confessed to a friend he had ‘long lost faith in the dogmas’, was a regular church-goer and described attending the All-Night Vigil (or ‘Vespers’) as ‘one of my deepest joys’.
It was his sincere concern regarding what he saw as the diluting influence of the Italian style on Russian church music that inspired him to go back to the traditional Orthodox chants when composing his version. His trailblazing achievement inspired several other composers to make their own settings, most notably Rachmaninov.
Early recordings of this repertoire were often plagued with what (to Western ears) sounded like painfully wide vibrato, dodgy intonation, a tendency for individual voices to emerge and distorted sound at climaxes. Here, in contrast, is choral singing of beguiling sophistication, beautifully recorded, that captures the score’s full range of expression, from hushed moments of introspective awe to rolling climaxes of intense celebration.
The icing on the cake is provided by four choral rarities dating from the 1880s: the Hymn in Honour of Saints Cyril and Methodius, A Legend (arranged by Tchaikovsky from his 16 Children’s Songs), the Jurists’ Song (celebrating the founding of the Imperial School of Jurisprudence), and the radiant chorus, The Angel Cried Out.