Tchaikovsky's sacred music is not often performed, although he was religious (even if in a somewhat blurry way) and was willing to let himself in for a hassle by writing the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Op. 41, in 1878: it was promptly banned by the Russian Orthodox Church, which considered it too modern. Indeed, Tchaikovsky wrote a textbook on church music composition and seems to have contemplated a kind of reform of church music. That went nowhere, but this gorgeous setting of an Orthodox liturgy was performed quite often during its own time in non-liturgical settings. The abridged version here is quite effective. Sample "Dostoyno yest" ("Hymn to the Mother of God") for an idea of what he was thinking: the work keeps the opening chants and much of the traditional sound, but Tchaikovsky introduces Western harmonies with the intent of a quietly lyrical effect. Big Russian choirs have recorded the work, but the lighter sounds of the 24-voice Latvian Radio Choir under Sigvards Klava seem ideal here, probably resembling the Moscow art societies that first performed the music, and more likely in keeping with the spirit in which Tchaikovsky composed it. Also included are nine a cappella sacred pieces that really let the Latvian Radio Choir show what it can do: this group has a precision and grace that are hardly matched anywhere in the world these days. The choir may be better suited to Tchaikovsky than to Rachmaninov, whom it has also recorded, but check them out, whatever it takes. Ondine's sound engineering, at St. John's church in Riga, is absolutely exemplary. An exceptional choral release.
Tchaikovsky: Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom; Nine Sacred Choruses Review
by James Manheim