TCHAIKOVSKY Liturgy of St John Chrysostom. 9 Sacred Choruses
Tchaikovsky’s setting of the Liturgy has a fundamental place in the history of Russian sacred choral music. It was published in 1879 by Jurgenson without the authorisation of the censors of the Royal Chapel, something that had been indispensable since the time of Bortnyansky, and thus opened the way for composers to move in new stylistic directions, especially with regard to the Russian Orthodox Church’s musical past.
While Tchaikovsky himself would later work more seriously with early chant, the Liturgy is freely composed. It is a work of tremendous richness, with many memorable moments; I do not think I know a more impressive setting of the Trisagion, for example, and the Cherubic Hymn echoes in one’s mind long after it has finished sounding. And echo is what this recording does: Kl,ava is utterly unafraid to choose very slow speeds for many of the sections of the work, but never once does he lose sight of the structure or let go of the dramatic tension which is so much a part of Tchaikovsky’s music, even his liturgical settings. The Latvian Radio Choir are superb in this repertoire and the decision to include the ‘cues’ of the priest and deacon is a very good one: it ties the whole work together and reminds the listener that the drama here is placed within a liturgical, not a concert, context. In addition, the choir’s diction is superb: I do not ever remember hearing the long text of the Creed so clearly articulated.
To complement the Liturgy, Kl,ava has added the Nine Sacred Choruses, written in 1884-85, which include some of Tchaikovsky’s finest music. There are three settings of the Cherubic Hymn, three other settings for the Divine Liturgy (Tebe poem, Dostoyno est and the Lord’s Prayer), Da ispravitsya moya from the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts and two superb motet-like works, Blazhenni yazhe izbral from the memorial service and Nine sili nebesniya, also from the Liturgy of the Presanctified. The Latvian Radio Choir sing them all with passionate intensity, and the engineering is of exemplary clarity.