Most of Sviridov's choral works are settings of texts by Russian poets—the most prominent among them being Alexander Pushkin, Sergei Yesenin, and Alexander Blok; the set of four choruses based on poems from Blok’s cycle Songs of Troubled Times
was composed in 1980. Blok’s ‘symbolist’ verse, remarkably ‘spiritual’ for a writer officially embraced by the Communist Party, exemplifies the sort of poetry that nourished Russian souls in the midst of an atheistic, materialistic ideology. The imagery in the first three choruses is not merely pleasant Romantic nature poetry: it portrays the realm of nature touched and transfigured by the Divine Hand. In the fourth chorus, a sky similarly transfigured frames a mystical encounter with an image of Christ. Musically and stylistically, Sviridov treats these texts in a manner resembling his treatment of sacred texts: homophony prevails, ensuring the primacy and intelligibility of the text; solo intonations alternate with full, choral chords; timbral contrasts between the treble and male groups are used; a soloist intones the text over a wordless, multi-layered, ison-like drone. One might argue that the style of Sviridov’s settings is overly dramatic and expressive to qualify as a truly sacred style. His writing, however, represents a logical continuation of at least one direction in sacred choral composition, exemplified by such composers as Gretchaninov, Rachmaninov, and Nikolai Golovanov, in the Russian pre-Revolutionary period. Taken together, the stylistic elements in Sviridov’s choruses show him clearly to be a perpetuator of the great pre-Revolutionary school of Russian sacred choral composition.
from notes by Vladimir Morosan © 1997