Taneyev: Cantata No. 2, Op. 36 (At the Reading of a Psalm)

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LABELS: PentaTone
WORKS: Cantata No. 2, Op. 36 (At the Reading of a Psalm)
PERFORMER: Lolita Semenina (soprano), Marianna Tarassova (alto), Mikhail Gubsky (tenor), Andrei Baturkin (bass); St Petersburg State Academic Capella Choir; Boys Choir of the Glinka Choral College; Russian National Orchestra/Mikhail Pletnev
It’s hard to believe this sweetly earnest choral work was premiered two years after The Rite of Spring, in 1915. In its sound-world and harmony it belongs to a bygone era; as the excellent booklet note points out, the biggest influence on it is Beethoven’s Missa solemnis, though there are frequent echoes of Mendelssohn, and a blatant near-quotation from the Prelude to Wagner’s Lohengrin. None of this would matter if the level of inspiration were high, and the piece begins promisingly, with a picturesque evocation of ‘the earth trembling, the thunder rolls through the ether’. But soon the dead hand of academicism descends, with one strenuously energetic fugue after another. Mikhail Pletnev clearly believes passionately in the work, and he conducts the orchestra he founded, the Russian National Orchestra, with loving attention to detail. The orchestra itself is clearly a virtuoso band, and there are numerous beautifully shaped woodwind solos. The choral parts are sung by an amalgamation of the St Petersburg State Academic Capella Choir and the Boys Choir of the Glinka Choral College, and this recording amply bears out their stellar reputation. It’s a great shame that these wonderful qualities seem to be hidden behind a veil; you have to strain to hear them, as the recording is woefully lacking in body and warmth. Ivan Hewett