LABELS: Harmonia Mundi Saison Russe
WORKS: God Save the Tsar; March from Oleg the Wise
PERFORMER: Orthodox Singers Male Choir/Georgy Smirnov, Viktor Wichniakov, Viktor Krutchenkov, Boris Tchepikov, Andre Papkov
CATALOGUE NO: RUS 288 158
A bass able to tackle the role of Boris Godunov must have a range that encompasses low F. A Russian oktavist, however, can descend far deeper, to the A below that, making the standard bass sound positively unremarkable.
This disc is a celebration of this profound and extraordinary, not to say freakish, skill, showcased by four soloists, Viktor Krutchenkov, Boris Tchepikov, Yuri Vichnyakov and Andrei Papkov, whose voices are monumental, reverberating instruments of almighty power and distinction. But for all their resonance and rarity, it’s an unlovely, growl-like sound, not helped by the literally monotonous and declamatory nature of most oktavisti parts.
The programme is predominantly sacred and gloom-ridden (excerpts from mortuary offices; a citation of anathemas against heresy; a litany of supplication); so the anthem ‘God Save the Tsar’, familiar from Tchaikovsky’s use of its melody in the closing section of 1812; and the rip-roaring march setting (unattributed) of Pushkin’s poem ‘Oleg the Wise’, come as a welcome antidote.
But these alone are not enough to leaven the overall mood, and though the quality of the singing from the rest of the 14-man Orthodox Singers, an ensemble recruited from the cream of Moscow’s church choirs, is outstanding, fine-toned and exquisitely controlled, the general effect is oppressive. Claire Wrathall