Russian Treasures

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Gretchaninov; Rachmaninov; Golanov; Chesnokov; Kalinikov; Tchaikovsky; Kedrov
LABELS: Bene Arte/Signum
ALBUM TITLE: Russian Treasures
WORKS: Works by Gretchaninov, Rachmaninov, Golanov, Chesnokov, Kalinikov, Tchaikovsky and Kedrov
PERFORMER: Tenebrae/Nigel Short
CATALOGUE NO: SIGCD 900

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For its 20th album, the choir Tenebrae – BBC Music Magazine Award-winner with its Victoria Requiem – revisits repertoire it has not been much associated with lately, including several first recordings of Russian Orthodox works mostly dating from the first decades of the 20th century. There are also excerpts from Rachmaninov’s magnificent All-Night Vigil – a work which the choir has previously recorded some years ago. That these excerpts here so improve on that earlier recording is rather a mixed blessing: as much of the rest of the programme, including sections of Rachmaninov’s Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, sound in comparison frankly sentimental if still beguiling. This is a pity, as there are genuine discoveries to be made: three tracks by Nikolay Golovanov, better known as an opera conductor but a superb choral composer (albeit patently non-Orthodox in his highly expressive ‘Glory to the Father’), and some rare gems by the prolific but inventive Pavel Chesnokov.

Tenebrae’s ultra-deep and resonant basses are immediately evident as the voices unfurl upwards in the opening Gretchaninov track. Less characteristic of the repertoire, though utterly of Tenebrae, is the ultra-clean and precise tuning, which at times brings the music disconcertingly into the realm of close harmony. Authentic Russian style this is not, and one may wish for a touch more fervour, yet these highly focused performances reveal the magnificent craft of some glorious and still little-known music.

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Daniel Jaffé