Tchaikovsky: Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom (excerpts); Sacred choral works

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COMPOSERS: Tchaikovsky
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom (excerpts); Sacred choral works
PERFORMER: St Petersburg Chamber Choir/Nikolai Korniev
CATALOGUE NO: 446 685-2
Tchaikovsky’s few contributions to the rich repertoire of the Russian Orthodox Church are surprisingly restrained in tone and harmonically straightforward. The most important of these, a setting of the fourth-century texts of St John Chrysostom — in effect a eucharist service – brought him into conflict with the Orthodox establishment.

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This was not so much for the style of the music (which, in its return to the simplicity of earlier traditions, paved the way for Rachmaninov’s richly-scored settings of the same texts and of the All-Nigh t Vigil), but because he allowed it to be performed in a concert hall. That said, this latest St Petersburg recording of excerpts from the Liturgy carries the unmistakable sound of a Russian cathedral, complete with a hugely spacious acoustic. Indeed, the echo is so strong that the musical contours are often blurred and this, added to the fact that the choir rarely moves together in the simple, chordal passages, gives an overall effect that made me feel mildly seasick. The choir’s sound is authentically Russian, of course, but the edginess of the sopranos (with a few voices caught most unflatteringly) does not make a pleasant listen. Valery Polyansky’s Moscow recording of the complete work (on BMG Melodiya) is far more direct, musical and ingratiating. Stephen Maddock