Russian Liturgical Music

Long-time admirers of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s music have been acquainted with several of his liturgical works. Both the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrisothom and the All-Night Vigil have at one time or another been given partial or complete concert performances outside the Russian Orthodox Church, affording the devotees of the Russian composer’s work the rare opportunity to hear and admire a unique genre of music.

With roots that go back to the penetration by the Byzantine Empire of Russian culture that accompanied the 988 conversion to Christianity of the inhabitants of several of the regions that today comprise the Russian Federation and its neighboring nations, the Russian Orthodox liturgical repertoire is vast and enriched by the contributions of important composers, some perhaps less familiar than Sergei Rachmaninoff.

Works by Rachmaninoff along compositions by Gretchaninoff, Tcherepnin, and several other musical artists that lived and worked in the past two or more centuries enrich the CD Blessed Art Thou Among Women, a wonderfully varied collection of devotional texts in praise of the Virgin Mary set to choral music and superbly sung by the Patram Institute Singers, led by Peter Jermihov,

The music in this CD is varied but anchored in a tradition that observes a set a set of compositional guidelines. On first listening one discerns the four-square structure typical of much of Russian music in and outside of the liturgy. The melodies are sweeping, at times impassioned, at others ethereally tranquil and anchored in sound traditional harmony.

The contrapuntal settings of several of these works are not immensely complex but rather giving breathing space for the kind of sober text-driven polyphony that can be heard in familiar moments of choral singing in Russian operas, Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov among others.

The singing of the Patram Institute Singers is musically and vocally magnificent, with the solo work of soprano Fotina Naumenko infusing Ledkovsky’s The Angel Cried Out with an exquisite sound. Then there is the rock-solid underpinning contributed by the inky sound of the basses whose profundo voices lend a sound seemingly emanating from a source outside vocal human bounds.

Over seventy-nine minutes of listening one was entranced by this Reference Recordings FR-737 CD, lovingly brought to life by Alexis and Katherine Lukianov, dedicated to the memory of their father Protopresbyter Valery Lukianov.

With support from the Tikhon Russian-American Music Institute and recorded in the acoustically-perfect Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky, in Howel, NJ, produced by Blanton Alspaugh, and engineered by John Newton, this is an invaluable collection of aural comfort for the soul, providing music rarely heard and much needed especially now during these days of earthly troubles.

Rafael de Acha

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