Listening to this having undergone the banal horrors of the average parish celebration of the Easter vigil complete with strumming guitars and jejune, juvenile ditties was balm to the soul - and enough to make even the most devout Catholic fleetingly consider conversion to the Orthodox Church. (OK; we have Palestrina and Byrd, but how often do we hear them as part of a sung Mass?)
Sung this well, this music provides the aural equivalent of watching great blocks of marble being swung into place to construct a cathedral of sound; time stands still, fragrant incense rises to the dome, the icons glow golden in the candlelit gloom and the angels descend to listen. Yup; it's that good.
I am at a loss to explain what a previous reviewer hears and am only sorry that a dozen voters since will have been put off owning this superb anthology by his complaining. Owing to the variety of sources, recording techniques, age, ambience and the possibility of extraneous noise present during the recordings, there is of course some small variety of quality of sound but I hear at most some slight hiss, most noticeable on tracks 2, 6 and 16 - and that is really negligible; it all sounds excellent on my Bose.
On researching this on Amazon.com I came up with this response from the producer of the disc to two disgruntled reviewers:
"The hiss/poor sound quality referred to by this and another reviewer is due to the fact that the masters of the original recordings from which the compilation was created were made on analogue reel-to-reel tapes in the 60's and earlier. Digital purity cannot be expected from these masters. The mastering of the CD itself--working from these masters--was done by one of the top recording engineers in the music industry, to the highest standards possible under the circumstances. We feel that the music and performances on this compilation more than make up for the very small--almost non-existent--amount of hiss one might hear when listening at low or even average volume levels. Thousands of listeners agree with me on this point.
A real music lover will appreciate the depth and beauty of great music even if the recording is less than perfect. It's too bad these 2 reviewers can't."
I couldn't agree more; to deny yourself the experience of this transcendently lovely music through intolerance of a little background hiss is absurd; the response of an obsessive who cares more for technology than beauty.
The compilation is cunningly and tastefully chosen to embrace the qualities of stillness, grandeur and verticality so often missing from modern worship and from the world in general. It's difficult to pick favourite tracks amid so many masterpieces but the excerpts from Rachmaninov's Liturgy of St John Chrysostom are especially sublime and I love the devotional fervour with which the resonant Bulgarian male choir sings "the Noble Joseph" in a very spacious ambience. The rotund, rumbling sonority of those basses on low A in "Hymn of the Cherubim" is like the echo of the Big Bang, the background noise from the instant of Creation: stunning. Do yourself a favour, buy this, dim the lights, light some candles, take a glass of wine, sit back and contemplate what it is that connects us with the Divine.