Russian Chant for Vespers (Inc. Betta International/ Novospassky Monastery Choir) (Naxos: 8.553123)
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Russian Chant for Vespers
Church music is an extensive and significant part of Russian national culture. The history of its appearance, its life and development embraces many centuries, beginning with the introduction of Christianity up to the present time.
In particular there was a remarkable flourishing of Russian church music at the end of the nineteenth century and in the first twenty years of the next century. It was a period when many talented and widely known composers renewed and enriched church repertoire.
The present recording offers the chants of the solemn church service, in its major and large-scale form, the Vespers. Each chant has a definite ritual function and opens up images of the sacred text, acquiring as it does the text's emotional colouring. The festive service is traditionally preceded by bell-ringing, heard far and wide. Reaching heaven and earth, it creates a peculiar, unique and stirring mood.
The Service begins with the hymn - Christ is risen from the dead. The polyglot tradition of this prayer, in Greek, Latin and Church-Slavonic, points to the world-wide significance of the Orthodox Church. The beginning of the Psalm CIII, Bless the Lord, o my soul, glorifies the miracle of the creation of the world with its beauty, its unity and its diversity. The wisdom and might of the Creator are acclaimed in lucid rapturous tones. The chant Blessed is the man presents a contrasting comparison of images, the deeds of the righteous and of evil men. The music itself accentuates the contrast.
The prayer in the znamenniy chant is an archaic monody. The austere primitive nature of the melody of this stanza, sombre in character, is reminiscent of the colouring of an ancient ikon.
Among the composers recorded is Alexandr Kastal'sky, one of the greatest, a connoisseur and critic of church music of his time, the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries. His chant O Lord, I have cried unto thee is a heart-felt prayer to God for absolution and hope. Kastalsky's Joyful Light expresses a mystic mood: the image of the twilight sky with its gentle and soft light calls forth a metaphor, light as eternal truth. The prayer Christ is risen from the dead is a solemn proclamation of the wonderful resurrection of Christ.
Pavel Chesnokov, a composer of the same epoch as those mentioned below, with his chant Praise ye the name of the Lord unfolds to the full the solemnity and lyricism of the prayer. Concentration and reserve move on to supplication and ecstasy in We have seen thy resurrection. The prayer Troparia for Amomos is full of deep warmth that comes from the heart. O Lord, save thy people is addressed to God, asking Him for mercy and blessing.
In The joy of those who mourn by Ivan Platonov the melody of the song may be likened to the flowing of a river, expressing meekness and sorrowfully tender emotion.
In Lord, now let test thou thy servant depart in peace by M. Strokin we hear humble parting with the earthly world and a profound hope for salvation. Glory to Lord in the Highest by V. Chmelev is solemn and happy praise of our Saviour.
The Lord is with us by V. Zinoviev is permeated with confidence in God's
counsel and protection.
S. Trubachev's Hail Mary is imbued with warmth and tenderness for the Holy Mother.
The image of Holy Mary is present in one more chant The Angel cried. The voice of the Angel announces to the grieving Mother the happy news of her Son's resurrection.
The solemn church service ends with the Patriarchal Many Years sung by the deacon and taken up by the joyful ringing voices of the choir.
The festive chants are offered in the interpretation of the Novospassky choir in Moscow, one of the best monastic choirs today.
Novospassky Monastery Choir
The Novospassky (New Saviour) Monastery in Moscow is a characteristic fifteenth century fortified monastery, with an eighteenth century bell-tower and other more recent additions and restorations. The monastic complex includes the Spaso-Preobrazhensky (Cathedral of the Transfiguration) built by the Romanovs in the 1640s, the 1675 Pokrovskaya Tserkov (Church of the Intercession) and the Tserkov Znamenia (Church of the Sign), built as a memorial to members of the Sheremetev family in 1808.