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Vespers - Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky, Gretchaninov

Release Date: 11/15/2011 
Label:  Brilliant Classics   Catalog #: 9233  
Composer:  Sergei RachmaninovPeter Ilyich TchaikovskyAlexander Grechaninov
Performer:  Olga BoruseneYuri KorinnykMykhaylo Tyshchenko
Conductor:  Evgen SavchukValeri PolyanskiiVivian Klochkov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ukrainian National Capella "Dumka"Russian State Symphony CappellaNational Choir of Ukraine,   ... 
Number of Discs: 5 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

RACHMANINOFF Vespers 1. Liturgy of St. John Chysostom 2. O Mother of God vigilantly praying 2. Chorus of Spirits 2. Pantely the Healer 2. TCHAIKOVSKY Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom 3. GRETCHANINOV Vespers 4 Read more 1,3 Veyhen Savchuk, 2 Valery Polyansky, 4 Vivian Klochkov, cond; 1 Olga Borusene (sop); 1 Yuri Korinnyk, 1 Mykhaylo Tyshchenko (tenor); 1,3 Ukraine Natl Acad Ch “Dumka”; 2 Russian St S Capella; 4 Bulgarian Mixed Ch BRILLIANT 10587 (5 CDs: 2733:55)

This compilation is a good starter set for someone interested in exploring the liturgical music of the Eastern Orthodox Church. While none of the recordings of the major works are a first choice, all are quite solid and commendable, and well recorded.

The Rachmaninoff Vespers—more properly, the All-Night Vigil —is far and away the best-known piece here; stunningly beautiful, it is justly esteemed the greatest musical setting ever written of an Orthodox liturgy. (Ironically, it has never been officially approved by ecclesiastical authority for liturgical use in the Orthodox Church, due in part to the composer’s de facto excommunication for marrying a distant cousin within ecclesiastically forbidden degrees of consanguinity, and in part to deviations in the composition itself from the strict traditional rules governing the treatment of traditional znamenny chant melodies.) This is one of the better recordings, with three fine soloists, marred only by a ridiculously fast tempo in the opening chant, “O Come and Worship.”

Unfortunately, the best recordings of this work are all either out of print or available only on hard-to-find import labels. These include the classic premiere recording by Alexander Sveshnikov with the USSR State Academic Russian Choir, currently in print on Melodiya; Vladislav Chernushenko with the St. Petersburg Capella, issued on various labels but currently out of print; and Valery Polyansky with the USSR Ministry of Culture Chamber Choir, also issued on various labels but now out of print. The Polyansky (which has the legendary Irina Arkhipova as the female soloist) is my desert-island favorite; however, if you seek it out, look for the BMG issue, as some of the Russian releases suffer from electronic distortion in the loudest passages. Good digital recordings, in print and more readily available, are by Alexei Pouzakov with the Choir of St. Nicholas Church Tolmachi on Boheme, and an unusually brisk version (51 minutes rather than the usual 60–65) by Victor Popov with the Moscow Academy of Choral Art on Delos. I am not fond of the glossy, high-profile Philips recording by Nikolai Korniev with the St. Petersburg Chamber Choir and Olga Borodina as the female soloist, and recordings by non-Slavic choirs are simply not competitive.

The Rachmaninoff Liturgy with Polyansky, originally issued on Claves, has not been reviewed before in these pages, but I discussed it in a review of a recording by the Latvian Radio Chorus back in Fanfare 34:1. It is not quite complete, as it includes the choral responses to the litanies but omits the chants of the celebrant and deacon; for an exquisitely sung complete version, the Nimbus set with the Kansas City Chorale under Charles Bruffy is easily the first choice. However, to my knowledge Polyansky remains the only conductor to have recorded all three of Rachmaninoff’s shorter sacred choral works together in a single set, so if you want to have those as well, then this is your only option.

Finding an adequate recording of the Tchaikovsky Liturgy is a tricky task with traps for the unwary because, as J. F. Weber lamented in a review in 25:3 of a performance by Nikolai Kachanov and the Russian Chamber Chorus of New York, few recordings contain all 15 movements that the composer penned. In addition to the Kachanov disc on RMASA, other unabridged recordings are those by Valery Polyansky with the USSR Ministry of Culture Chamber Choir, presently in print on the scarce CDK import label; Marcel Verhoeff with the A. A. Jurlov Chamber Choir on Koch Schwann; Mykola Hobdych with the Kiev Chamber Choir on Naxos; and the Savchuk recording offered here. The Polyanksy and Verhoeff discs were reviewed by Don Seibert in 15:2 (not yet in the Fanfare Archive). The Kachanov, Verhoeff, and Hobdych recordings are more complete in that they also include the chanted parts of the celebrant and deacon; the Verhoeff—a live recording of an actual service—includes the chanting of the Epistle and Gospel texts appointed for the day. Of these three, the Kachanov and Verhoeff are far superior to the Hobdych, which suffers from poor singing by both the celebrant and deacon. The Polyanksy has hugely resonant sound but is rather static as a performance. The Savchuk version in this set is superior to the Naxos, and has more movement than the Polyansky, but is somewhat underpowered and fails to make as much of an impression as it should. It is the one relative disappointment in this set.

(On a side note. Kachanov and the RCC-NY also have issued on Koch one of only two recordings ever made of the Tchaikovsky Vespers, the other being by Vladislav Chernushenko with the Leningrad Glinka Choir. J. F. Weber reviewed them respectively in 22:1 and 20:3. He expressed a preference for the Chernushenko, as it also included six of Tchaikovsky’s 10 short sacred choral pieces with Alexander Sveshnikov and the USSR State Academic Choir. As all 10 of those pieces are now readily available in fine performances on a Hyperion CD by Matthew Best and the Corydon Singers, and the Chernushenko is now in print on the import Audiophile label without the supplemental Sveshnikov items, interested readers may choose to seek out the Kachanov as a preferable choice. Unfortunately, neither recording is complete; the Kachanov includes 12 out of 17 movements, the Chernushenko 15, a factor that tips the balance somewhat back toward the latter.)

The Gretchaninov Vespers Service is a comparative rarity. Only two recordings of it have ever been made: the one offered here by Klochkov with the Bulgarian Mixed Choir, which originally appeared on the Gega label and was reviewed in 18:4 by J. F. Weber, and a Hyperion recording (now a budget reissue on Helios) with the Holst Singers under Stephen Layton. Here Layton has a slight but decided advantage; although the British forces do not have the echt Slavic sound of their Bulgarian rivals, they are a more polished ensemble with a sonorous sound, and that release includes three other sacred works by Gretchaninov as a bonus.

While both of the Savchuk recordings in this set are presently available as single CD issues on the Regis label, this set is at present the only source for the Polyansky and Klochkov recordings. No texts are provided; while those for the Liturgy and Vespers services are readily available elsewhere, those for the three shorter works by Rachmaninoff are virtually impossible to locate. (I obtained them privately from a friend who is an Orthodox priest.) That, of course, is an inconvenience one endures in order to obtain these items at Brilliant Classics’ super-budget price. If you have the funds, energy, and inclination to seek out the superior alternative recordings I have mentioned, by all means do so; but otherwise this set can be recommended as a sound introduction to this repertoire.

FANFARE: James A. Altena
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Works on This Recording

Vespers, Op. 37 by Sergei Rachmaninov
Performer:  Olga Borusene (Soprano), Yuri Korinnyk (Tenor), Mykhaylo Tyshchenko (Tenor)
Conductor:  Evgen Savchuk
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ukrainian National Capella "Dumka"
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1915; Russia 
Date of Recording: 12/2000 
Venue:  Cathedral, Kiev, Ukraine 
Length: 61 Minutes 50 Secs. 
Language: Russian 
Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, Op. 31 by Sergei Rachmaninov
Conductor:  Valeri Polyanskii
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Russian State Symphony Cappella
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1910; Russia 
Date of Recording: 10/1990 
Venue:  Smolensk Cathedral 
Length: 91 Minutes 0 Secs. 
Language: Russian 
O mother of God vigilantly praying by Sergei Rachmaninov
Conductor:  Valeri Polyanskii
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Russian State Symphony Cappella
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1893; Russia 
Date of Recording: 1987 
Venue:  Sophia Cathedral, Polotsk, Belarussia 
Length: 9 Minutes 28 Secs. 
Language: Russian 
Chorus of spirits for Don Juan by Sergei Rachmaninov
Conductor:  Valeri Polyanskii
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Russian State Symphony Cappella
Period: Romantic 
Written: ?1894; Russia 
Date of Recording: 1987 
Venue:  Sophia Cathedral, Polotsk, Belarussia 
Length: 1 Minutes 25 Secs. 
Language: Russian 
Panteley the healer by Sergei Rachmaninov
Conductor:  Valeri Polyanskii
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Russian State Symphony Cappella
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1900; Russia 
Date of Recording: 1987 
Venue:  Sophia Cathedral, Polotsk, Belarussia 
Length: 4 Minutes 11 Secs. 
Language: Russian 
Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Op. 41 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Conductor:  Evgen Savchuk
Orchestra/Ensemble:  National Choir of Ukraine
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1878; Russia 
Vespers Liturgy, Op. 59 by Alexander Grechaninov
Conductor:  Vivian Klochkov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Mixed Choir
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1912; Russia 
Language: Russian 

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