Various: Ikon, Vol. 1 (CD Review - Gramophone Magazine, 1997)

The most interesting discovery to be made on this anthology is Sviridov's choral music, both sacred (though disguised as incidental music for a play under the Soviet regime) and profane (a lovely Blok cycle). A Russian nineteenth-century ancestry is audible in his work, and he is clearly following in the footsteps of Rachmaninov, with a splendid sureness of technique. James Bowman's voice (unexpectedly) joins the Holst Singers in one of the Blok settings, but his real showcase here is the Grechaninov Creed (not the first time he has recorded it, but the previous version on Trax, under Laszlo Heltay, is long unavailable). This piece is really not much more than chords ‚ but what chords! The solo recitative depends entirely on the musical personality of the singer, and Bowman carries it off to perfection. Here, as throughout, the Holst Singers' pronunciation of Slavonic and Russian is excellent, but it is interesting that the indubitably English sound produced particularly by the female voices brings out what one might term the 'English' connections of this very Russian music: on hearing them sing Grechaninov and Tchaikovsky one might easily be reminded of Walton or Stanford.

The other pieces by Grechaninov and the Kalinnikov Svete tikhi (ìRadiant lightî) are also finely sung, but the Tchaikovsky works suffer from too strict an adherence to the beat (particularly noticeable in Tebe poem, ìBlessed are theyî and the first part of the Cherubic hymn). No such problems affect Part's Magnificat or Gorecki's Totus tuus, however, both of which are given superlative readings of the utmost sensitivity and control. I fail to share Stephen Layton's enthusiasm for Nystedt's Immortal Bach which, though beautifully performed, strikes me as being very far indeed from what Vladimir Morosan in his note describes as ìtheology expressed in soundî. It must be delightful to sing, but it hardly serves as a conclusion for an otherwise well-thought-out collection. Nystedt apart, highly recommended.

Ivan Moody

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