Hidden Music of the Russian Church CD review – glowing, fragrant choral sound

Moscow Patriarch Choir/Tolkachev
(Christophorus)

Sacred Chants after the Revolution 1917 is the subtitle of this sumptuous collection, and the notes describe the “acts of heroism” that the five composers went through to keep Russia’s mighty choral tradition alive in Soviet times while churches were being razed and clergymen murdered. Just how “hidden” these composers were is intriguing: Alexander Nikolsky was made responsible for “proletarian culture” after the revolution and Alexander Alexandrov was such a personal favourite of Stalin that the dictator would call up in the middle of the night requesting choirs to sing his favourite tunes. Also featured on the disc are hymns by Golovanov, Chesnokov and Kastalsky, all of whose music is miles off anything challenging enough to be denounced by the regime as “muddle instead of music” (as Shostakovich’s was). Instead, the harmonic language is rousing, fragrant pre-revolution romanticism, and the Moscow choir under Ivan Tokachev sings it better than anyone: deep-purring basses, intense-vibrato tenors, ecstatic sopranos, and a rich vibrancy to the whole ensemble. This is a choral sound that just glows.

Contributor

Kate Molleson

The GuardianTramp

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