Various: Ikon, Vol. 2 (CD Review - Audiophile Audition, 2010)

*****

 

I can’t believe that it’s been 13 years since Ikon came out by these same forces. At the time I considered it one of the best discs of Russian chant I had ever heard, albeit with a slight Anglican tint to it. No mind—there is nothing in the commandments that forbids non-Russian groups singing their music—which by now has moved way beyond just the confines of strict Russian flavoring anyway—and they did a bang up job of it. At the time, reviewing this disc for another publication, I said “This ravishing, filled-to-the-brim disc features one of the broadest dynamic ranges I have ever heard. Every pitch resonates in an exceptional manner. The Holst Singers, one of the finest ensembles of its kind, take advantage of every sonic accommodation they are offered. The choir adopts good imitation Slavonic, yet retains that airy, super-clear English cathedral sound. Even the works of the big name Russians are given superlative renditions.” All this remains true here, and the absence of James Bowman, whose counter tenor was way out of place on the first album, adds to this one’s desirability.

This disc avoids the eclecticism of the first one, and concentrates mainly on composers of the Moscow Synodal School, an 18th century institution closely associated with the Moscow Synodal Choir. From the website “Voices from Russia” we learn “The Moscow Synodal Choir, one of the oldest professional choruses in Russia, was founded in 1721. The basis of the Synodal choir was the collection of clerics who served as the Patriarchal choir, which emerged in the late 16th century. Initially, the singers in the Patriarchal choir were exclusively drawn from the ranks of male clerics. Until the middle of 17th century, singing was monophonic, and, later, the choir began to perform polyphonic scores, so, therefore, boy sopranos and contraltos joined the ensemble. With the abolition of the patriarchate in 1700, the choir became known as the “Cathedral” (соборными) choir and were attached to the Assumption Cathedral in the Kremlin. Following the establishment of the Holy Synod in 1721, they were transferred to its authority and became known as the Moscow Synodal Choir. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Patriarchal choir and, later, the Synodal Choir, in terms of skill and performance was accounted as a “Muscovite” parallel to the sovereign’s chorus of clerical singers, renamed by Tsar Pyotr the Imperial Chapel Choir, which moved to St Petersburg.”

The 1917 revolution put an end to the institution, recently revived after 90 years this past January with the blessing of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Russia. The school itself was very conservative generally, although various aberrations came to play within the long tradition of Russian chant. The composers on this recording were involved in trying to resurrect the more authentic chant tradition, though of course a long way from the 500-year-old originals—multi-part choral music still reigned. But here you will find a number of pieces that are quite familiar, like those from Tchaikovsky’s Liturgy, Rachmaninov’s Vigil (Rejoice, O Virgin) and even Rimsky-Korsakov’s popular Our Father. This is all wonderfully recorded and sung, and is quite enjoyable. I do hope for two things next time: that the group will explore much earlier Russian liturgical music and that it won’t be another thirteen years!

Steven Ritter 

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