“Christ the Saviour Cathedral Moscow: New Liturgical Chant of the Russian Orthodox Church” = HASZLER: Credo Universale; The Mercy of Peace – We Hymn Thee; Blessed Xenia, the Divinely Wise; Troparion-Concert to Saint Andrew, the First-Called Apostle; Eis Polla Eti, Despota; TOLKACHEV: The Mercy of Peace – We Hymn Thee; Magnify, O My Soul; From My Youth; My Soul Doth Magnify the Lord; Adorn Your Bridal Chamber, O Zion, and Receive Christ the King – Moscow Patriarch Choir/ Ilya Tolkachev – Christophorus CHR 77384, 56:01 [Distr. by Naxos] ***1/2:
The Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow is the principal church of the Russian Orthodox Church. After being detonated in 1931 under Soviet rule, it was rebuilt at great effort and expense during the 1990s. The choir is also reinvigorated, making it the premiere and most important ensemble of its type in Russia. I was quite intrigued to hear this album in order to see just what type of music was being created in the last few years. After all, Orthodox music in general is quite bound to tradition, and in Russia this means the Znamenny and Kievan-style chants primarily, though the last three hundred years have been a sort of “open house” in terms of the loosening of these strictures to include a wide variety of choral compositions, often having nothing to do with chant aside from the illusory.
Composers like John Tavener and Arvo Part have had their impact on Orthodox music—all one has to do is listen for five minutes to either of the composers on this album to see that the ideas of drone, modality, and a regularly besetting minor mode tonality coupled with slow moving and meditative excursions into prolonged melodic fragments regulate the pace and feeling of this music. It’s not particularly original in terms of innovative structures or harmonies; what is unusual is that the Patriarchal Choir is taking it on and propagating it. This in itself shows that the Russian Church is having a change of mind in terms of its established usages. What is also interesting is that one of the pieces, the Credo Universale by German-born composer—and female—Natalie Haszler, is specifically directed at the idea of the reunion of the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches, something in the news lately, but hardly endorsed by the Russian Orthodox Church! Perhaps there is something going on behind the scenes—at any rate, attitudes seem to be adjusting to the need for more applicable contemporary realities.
These performances are excellent, as you would expect, and the music is certainly fascinating and in many cases moving, but not anything unique or unexpected. If anything it gives an overemphasis to a type of darkened and artificial “mystical” allure of the Orthodox services that in the end hardly reflect the norm, though it is definitely a part of the whole. At any rate, I am encouraged by what I hear—and by the mere fact of this production—and am curious to see where it goes in the next few years. Recommended for those who are attracted to the chant of the Eastern Church. The sound is terrific! [Steven Ritter is an Orthodox Archpriest…Ed.]
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