LABELS: Opus 111
WORKS: Russian Easter Liturgy: The Easter Canon of St John Damascene
PERFORMER: Russian Patriarchate Choir/Anatoly Grindenko
CATALOGUE NO: OPS 30-145 DDD
The Opus 111 recording label already has an established reputation in the field of Italian Baroque music and now it launches a new venture, Close Encounters with Early Music. This modestly priced series will explore repertoire from France, Italy, Spain, Flanders, Byzantium and Russia. Already some 18 discs have been issued, the latest of which are reviewed here.
The big discovery is the wonderful singing of Grindenko’s Russian choir. Its Easter service of St John Damascene is no deadpan liturgical mumble: it roars along like a train. ‘Ode 3’ is nothing less than a thinly disguised drinking song and the whole service is punctuated with beautifully clashing harmonies of spiritual ecstasy. The Greek Byzantine Choir (heard on a budget-price sampler disc, OPS 30-00, 5685) is pleasandy rough and ready and doubtless more authentically representative of the average churchly occasion.
At the heart of the series are musicians from the Paris Centre for Medieval Music, notably Brigitte Lesne (who runs the group Discantus), Emmanuel Bonnardot (of Obsidienne) and Pierre Hamon (of Alia Francesca). On the Discantus recording I found the great lament of Rachel, ‘O dulces filii’, oversweet and lacking in drama, though the performance of the Annunciation music, ‘Jube domne’, was improvisatory and thrilling. Again, Obsidienne’s account of the Song of the Sibyl hardly does justice to the awesome apocalyptic text, but its Barcelona Mass is the best recording yet. With both groups, delicate neutrality sometimes lapses into cautious narrowness.
There is greater variety on the items from Alia Francesca, Modo Antiquo and Ensemble Micrologus — but you have to be open to the ‘musical toyshop’ approach with lots of instruments and atmospherics. Highlights include a disembodied and captivating ‘Tedescha’ No. 4 from Modo Antiquo, a ravishing ‘Quant ces flouretes’ from Alia Francesca and a subde and soundly musical ‘Non form6 Cristi’ from Ensemble Micrologus. The quality of the recordings is high, though the Discantus tracks perhaps need a little more ‘warmth’. As a series, however, this has the two most important ingredients in abundance — discoveries and delights. Anthony Pryer