This release focuses on Russian composers from the early 20th-century – including some émigré composers – who were linked through the famous pre-Revolutionary Moscow Synodal School of church singing. The comprehensive notes give an excellent background to the composers, who included Chesnokov, Gretchaninov and Viktor Kalinnikov. Though their styles diverge, the extraordinary sonority of the lusciously-voiced choral writing is a common point, as is the deep bass singing – as resonant as cathedral bells.
To give a taste of the musical lineage of these composers, some earlier works are represented by Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov. An extract from Rachmaninov’s famous Liturgy shows how deeply that late-Romantic composer was affected by this tradition. Past and present are inextricably linked in this tradition, which draws from Gregorian chant, and which can be heard reflected too in the 20th-century revolutionary writings of Prokofiev, especially for his soundtracks of the movies of Sergei Eisenstein. This is a fascinating assemblage of mostly short compositions of only two or three minutes apiece, but brimming with a radiant serenity way out of scale with their brevity. These ikons truly gleam with beauty.