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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Addressing the Real, 13 Mar 2013
This review is from: Rachmaninov Vespers (Audio CD)
However timorous he might be of Simone Dinnerstein or Eliette von Karajan and her barrels of blue paint, the terror of Father Melchizedek OP (the High Priest of Period Practice) reaches new heights whenever he hears a Russian choir. Many of them are as rough `n' ready as the output of the Stalingrad Tractor Factory. They're worlds apart from the spruce, androgynous, one-voice-per part, diet-choirs which so dominate period practice. The fact that so many of their participants look like Rasputin's love-children, beards and all, must likewise unsettle the unruly cleric. Counter-tenors - heed the dooms of Napoleon and the Big A: stay out of Scythia!

I have no interest in Rachmaninov. There are two exceptions, both of them being masterpieces: the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom and the Vespers. In each of them, the composer touches the hem of His garment.

In this famous performance of the Vespers, dating from 1965, the USSR State Academic Choir under Alexander Sveshnikov consummate this work like no other. It is a lesson in majesty, numinosity and mysticism. The singing is entirely idiomatic. Normally such performances should not be judged solely on their musical merit. In any event, the array is excellent on this mundane level. And indeed, it is impossible not to marvel at the basses as they descend magisterially to the roots of the earth.

What of the deeper address? It matters not if you are Orthodox, a member of the Old Firm or one of its offshoots or ascribe to another Firm altogether: this music will resonate in that little spark we call a soul. Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, Consul of AD 391 and one of the last advocates of Paganism in the late Roman Empire, declared: "We gaze up at the same stars; the sky covers us all; the same universe encompasses us. Does it matter what practical system we adopt in our search for the Truth? The heart of so great a mystery cannot be reached by following one road only." This recording is not so much a road but an autobahn into the Cloud of Unknowing - so buckle up. Flat-Earthers won't find any respite in the recording: it is excellent.

The Hagia Sophia is the greatest house of worship in the world; it's a sacred site where heaven kisses earth. Nothing else comes close. Its mosaic of Christ Pantocrator, Lord of the Universe, was either destroyed barbarously by the Ottomans or lies deep under layers of plaster. In its absence, one can make do with this performance in its majesty.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 8 Apr 2013 21:02:23 BDT
Last edited by the author on 8 Apr 2013 21:04:02 BDT
1.Rachmaninov's Vespers is wonderful music that trancends mere words.
2.Dmitry Bortnyansky is even better, especially the truly transcendental Cherubic Hymn No7.
3.This is a very good recording, perhaps the best basses, but Valeri Polyansky's is technically better.
4.Hagia Sophia is not a house of worship, it is not a sacred site where heaven kisses earth and hasn't been since it became a museum in the 1930's. Before that it was a Mosque for 500 years, which rather precludes the chance that S. Rachmaninov's soaring opening of "Priidite Poklonimsy'a" would ever be heard reverberating around the formerly frescoe'd walls of the old Basilica.
5.Russia is not Scythia and never has been.
6.The Ottomans were indeed barbarous in their destruction of the former magnificence that now lies hidden under layers of plaster and an opposing ideology. Then again, Stalin destroyed more Russian Churches than the Germans, Mongols and Muslims put together.
7.There are Churches in Russia that are just as extraordinarily beautiful as the Byzantine masterpiece of Constantinople, you just need to know where to look.
8.The singing is not idiomatic, it is liturgical, the texts are taken from the All Night Vigil of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Apart from that, I agree.

In reply to an earlier post on 8 Apr 2013 21:33:46 BDT
Last edited by the author on 8 Apr 2013 21:36:59 BDT
Malcom, thank you for the comment.

You claim that the "Hagia Sophia is not a house of worship, it is not a sacred site where heaven kisses earth and hasn't been since it became a museum in the 1930's."

The numinosity of the Hagia Sophia is not determined by a government department. Nor does it need to be validated by rites or services.

I would not disagree with your Sixth Point.

Best wishes, B
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