To a certain extent, Sergey Rachmaninov's reverent setting of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom belongs to the long tradition of Russian Orthodox Christian chant, though it also partakes of the rich harmonies and sonorous counterpoint that are found in the liturgical settings by Classical and Romantic composers, from Dimitry Bortnyansky to Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky. Furthermore, in a few places it even anticipates the modern sacred choral music of Igor Stravinsky, so quite a broad range of Russian sacred styles appear to have been embraced. This 1993 performance by Matthew Best and the Corydon Singers is vibrant in harmony, clear in articulation, and smooth in its blend of voices, and listeners who have heard the group's 1991 recording of Rachmaninov's Vespers can expect more of this ensemble's flexible rhythmic incantations and subtle expressions of penitential and ecstatic moods, which are deeply intertwined in this work. The reproduction is both warm and resonant, two qualities often mutually exclusive in recordings of church music in situ, but not in the focused and clean recording in London's St. Alban's Church. Fans of modern sacred music, such as the music of John Tavener or Arvo Pärt, may find much to appreciate in this moving work, and perhaps be pleasantly surprised to discover the devotional side of Rachmaninov.
AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson
|Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, for chorus, Op. 31|