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Three Choruses from Tsar Feodor Ioannovich

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Georgy Sviridov (b1915) stands as a giant among Russian choral composers of the Soviet era. Almost single-handedly he carried forth the torch of high-minded and spirit-imbued choral art in the tradition of the pre-1917 Moscow Synodal School which had spearheaded a renaissance of highly artistic choral composition in the last decade of the nineteenth and the first two decades of the twentieth centuries. While most of his contemporaries were crafting ideologically correct folk-song arrangements or vacuous paeans to the brave new socialist paradise, Sviridov continued the tradition of composing choral music on texts of the highest quality—texts drawn from the Orthodox liturgy and texts by the best of Russian (and some non-Russian) poets. Official Communist Party ideology prohibited the composition of sacred works, so Sviridov cleverly circumvented this injunction by composing three sacred choruses under the guise of incidental music for Alexis Tolstoy’s play Tsar Feodor Ioannovich, an historical drama set in the seventeenth century.

The first chorus, Molitva (Prayer), uses the traditional liturgical text ‘Rejoice, O virgin’ from the Orthodox Vesper service. Musically, the work blends unison melodic motifs reminiscent of the ancient znamenny chant of the Russian Orthodox Church with harmonically resplendent, multi-layered textures characteristic of the Moscow Synodal style. The second number, Liubov sviataya (Sacred love), uses a non-liturgical text intoned in chant-like fashion by the soprano soloist over what might be termed a Byzantine-style drone (ison) in a twentieth-century harmonic incarnation. The effect is, at once, serene and filled with intense pathos. The third chorus, Pokayannïy stih (A Verse of Repentance), employs actual znamenny chant melodies, transcribed by the Soviet era’s pre-eminent chant scholar, Maksim Brazhnikov; the text is drawn from the penitential and apocalyptic poetry of the Russian ‘spiritual verses’—paraliturgical sacred songs that abounded in medieval Russia. Once again, to achieve sonorous and dramatic ends, Sviridov melds linear chant phrases with a layered ‘homorhythmic polyphony’, a style of choral writing distilled from indigenous Russian folk-singing initially by Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky, but developed to a high degree of refinement in the choral works of Alexander Kastalsky and Sergei Rachmaninov.

from notes by Vladimir Morosan © 1997


Ikon, Vol. 1
The Essential Hyperion, Vol. 2
This album is not yet available for downloadHYP202CDs Super-budget price sampler — Deleted


No 1: Molitva 'Prayer'  Bogoroditse Devo, raduysia 'Rejoice, O virgin Mother of God'
Track 1 on CDA66928 [3'48]
No 2: Liubov sviataya 'Sacred love'  Tï, liubov sviataya 'Thou, O sacred love'
Track 2 on CDA66928 [3'25]
Track 28 on HYP20 CD1 [3'25] 2CDs Super-budget price sampler — Deleted
No 3: Pokayannïy stih 'A verse of repentance'  Okayannïy i ubogiy cheloveche! 'O miserable and wretched man!'
Track 3 on CDA66928 [2'36]

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