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Hyperion Records

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The Virgin from a Deesis Tier (first half on the sixteenth century).
Old Believers Church or the Dormition in Tver
Track(s) taken from CDH55437
Recording details: April 1997
St Alban's Church, Holborn, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Antony Howell & Julian Millard
Release date: November 1997
Total duration: 28 minutes 27 seconds

'I would go so far as to say that this recording carries more musical conviction than any of its rivals' (Classic CD)

Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, Op 41
1878; published in 1879 by Pyotr Jurgenson of Moscow; first performed in June 1879 at the university church in Kiev

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Tchaikovsky was not a regular churchgoer but he was profoundly attached to the rituals and music of the Orthodox Church. He wrote to his patroness Nadezhda von Meck: ‘As you can see, I am still bound to the Church by strong ties, but on the other hand I have long ceased to believe in the dogma.’ He added further that he attended the Liturgy and Vigil frequently: ‘Anyone trying to comprehend the meaning of each ceremony will be stirred to the very depths of his being […] There is nothing like entering an ancient church on a Saturday, standing in the semi-darkness with the scent of incense wafting through the air, lost in deep contemplation searching for an answer to those perennial questions, wherefore, when, whither and why?’

The setting of the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom which Tchaikovsky began in 1878 was, then, a product of this deep emotional link which he had with Orthodox worship, and though the work even today is still often considered as being too ‘Western’, in spirit it is truly Russian. Tchaikovsky set all the principal sections of the Liturgy, a total of fifteen numbers of which ten are recorded here (the various litanies which punctuate the Orthodox Liturgy with their dialogue between priest and choir are omitted). In spite of the highly dramatic treatment to be found in some sections (the beautiful Cherubic Hymn and Tebe poem, both among the most solemn moments of the celebration, are good examples) and the typically Russian doubling of octaves and fifths, the choral writing is in general characterized by simplicity and transparency, as is demanded by the primacy of the text in Orthodox worship. In such numbers as the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, Tchaikovsky makes use of a rapid choral recitative which is typical of the Russian tradition (its twentieth-century descendant may be heard in the Slavonic setting of the Creed by Stravinsky and, at one further remove, in the Latin setting of the same text in his Mass). Indeed, the composer was acutely aware of the necessity to imbue any attempt at composing for the Church with the correct liturgical ambience (and would become even more aware of this in his setting of the Vigil of 1881/2), and therefore places great reliance on the richness of the choral sound itself, without resorting to any extended contrapuntal elaboration or harmonic abstruseness. There are moments of imitative writing (in Tebe poem, for example) and antiphonal effects (Dostoyno est), but they are exceptional, and not the basic compositional elements of the work.

The publication of Tchaikosvky’s Liturgy in 1879 caused a famous incident which would have wide-ranging consequences for the future of Russian sacred music. It was issued by Pyotr Jurgenson, the Moscow publisher who often collaborated with the Imperial Chapel, but on this occasion he had not requested the Chapel’s authorization, indispensable since the time of Bortnyansky (who had been director of the choir from 1796 until his death in 1825). No score could be published or sung without its imprimatur. The current director, Bakhmetev, responded immediately to the publication by confiscating copies and instigating a lawsuit against the publisher. The case took more than two years but was concluded in the composer’s favour and, meanwhile, the Liturgy was first performed at the university church in Kiev in June 1879. A second performance took place in a concert version in Moscow in December 1880 and was enthusiastically received.

from notes by Ivan Moody © 1997

Other albums featuring this work
'Ikon, Vol. 2' (CDA67756)
Ikon, Vol. 2
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