Collection: The Male Choir of St Petersburg

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COMPOSERS: Glinka,Rachmaninoff,Sviridov,Tchaikovsky
LABELS: EMI Debut
WORKS: Traditional Russian choral works
PERFORMER: Male Choir of St Petersburg/Vadim Afanasiev
CATALOGUE NO: CDZ 5 73166 2

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Choral singing existed in Russia long before a classical tradition evolved, and the 25-voice Male Choir of St Petersburg was founded in 1993 with the intention of reviving a 15th-century a cappella style established for the Cathedral of the Assumption in the Kremlin. (The Orthodox Church does not permit instruments other than the human voice during services.) Even so, this fascinating recital is only half devoted to sacred music, and in many ways the early secular songs – a far cry from the likes of ‘Kalinka’ and the other kitsch standards that typify the Russian folk repertoire – are every bit as mystical.

The quality of the singing is outstanding, especially some of the soloists: Vladimir Pasiukov, whose basso profundo is the deepest, darkest imaginable; and the alto Alexander Gorbatenko, whose eerie, beguilingly feminine voice contrasts to striking effect with the solemn masculinity of the chorus.

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It’s a disc that rewards repeated listening, so it’s a shame the booklet contains no information on the music itself. After the Male Choir of St Petersburg, Gloriae Dei Cantores, a mixed American choir of 40 from Cape Cod, seem pallid. That they are accomplished singers is not in question, but compared with the Russians, there is no real sense of conviction, no passion, in this programme of short sacred works by, among others, Glinka, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and the retrogressive Georgy Sviridov, who died last year. Claire Wrathall