There's an old musician's joke that if you die and go to Heaven, the first thing they do is hand you a harp; if you go to Hell, they hand you an accordion. But with the release of Sacred Treasures III, that joke can now be amended: upon entering Heaven, you'll be handed a Russian liturgical score.
The fourteen selections comprising Sacred Treasures III feature music from the Russian liturgical canon recorded in sumptuously reverberant settings by leading Russian choruses. With a state-of-the-art mastering job to fully display the subtle harmonic interplay of the singers, this release offers pure balm for the ear and soul.
The music covers a wide burst of historically important pieces, from ancient Greek Orthodox chant through early 20th Century choral masterpieces of Rachmaninov, plus one modern fantasy setting of Bach's Apollonian masterpiece "Komm Susser Tod" ("Come Sweet Death") by Scandinavian composer Gunnar Eriksson.
The collection opens with an anonymous 13th Century Russian "Alleluia," set in the calmest tradition of the Orthodox service, followed by a "Sourp, Sourp" ("Holy, Holy") from the Divine Liturgy. Both are sung by the ST. PETERSBURG CHAMBER CHOIR, directed by Nikolai Korniev. More familiar, perhaps, are the four sections of Rachmaninov's Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom from 1910, sung by the large Russian State Symphony capella. There are three additional sections from Rachmaninov's Vespers collection of 1915, sung by the USSR MINISTRY OF CULTURE CHAMBER CHOIR under Valery Polyansky's direction. Should you know of savage beasts in need of calming, the Kiev Chant "Peaceful Light" (track 10) from Rachmaninov's Vespers will turn away all monsters.
The recording also aims to represent the reverential dignity of the music. Following the traditions of the Orthodox Church, no instruments are sounded - not even bells. Everything about the music and the physical setting in which it is heard is designed to produce a feeling of heavenly peace. The music is never harsh, but rather blends into the richly decorated surroundings, lit primarily by candle light. All of these selections are designed to fit within the soft golden glow of ecclesiastical tranquillity.
Rachmaninov's seven pieces are spread among a variety of other unusual works ranging from the wordless "Chorale" by Josef Ketchakmadze to the little "Serenade" by Rachmaninov's composition teacher, Sergei Taneyev (1850-1915), sung by the LEGE ARTIS CHAMBER CHOIR under Boris Abalian's direction in St. Catherine's Lutheran Church, St. Petersburg. (Yes, they have Protestant and Catholic churches in Russia.)
Easily the most unusual and unexpected item in the collection is the setting of "The Lord's Prayer" by of all people Rimsky-Korsakov. Known for his virtuoso orchestral music, few will expect so deeply devout and reverent a piece from this composer. Although his choral music is rarely performed or recorded, he published several collections of religious texts, as well as 39 superb choral settings of Russian folk tunes. This version of "Our Father" is drawn from Rimsky's Opus 22 collection.
Only with the fall of the Iron Curtain ten years ago has much music of this warmly spiritual type made inroads into the Western world. That which has emerged has indeed proven to be a sacred treasury, individual in that it combines spiritual dignity with unabashed human emotion music reflecting aspiration and pure love. All are couched within pure syllabic settings, free of formal counterpoint. While this music offers a high level of artistry, at the same time it refuses to call attention to its internal workings. (When first you encounter Sacred Treasures III, listen to Track 10 and you'll hear what we mean.)
Hearts of Space enjoyed healthy sales of the first two volumes in their Sacred Treasures series. There is every reason, judging from the music compiled in the most recent installment, to expect at least the same level of success from Sacred Treasures III. Expertly chosen by producer ELLEN HOLMES, beautifully recorded and lovingly mastered, these are works of timeless magnificence.
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