Blessed Art Thou among Women—a New Release by the PaTRAM Institute Singers, Peter Jermihov, Conductor
Reviewed by Vladimir Morosan
The liturgical tradition of the Orthodox Church is extremely rich with hymnography in honor of the Virgin Mary—the Most Holy Theotokos or Mother of God, as she is typically referred to. Virtually every complex of Orthodox hymns, ranging from weekly or feast-day poetic verses (stichera) sung as tropes between psalm verses, to the Matins odes patterned on Biblical canticles (heirmoi), to the final hymn at the conclusion the Eucharistic Canon, culminates with praise of Mary — “more honorable than the Cherubim and incomparably more glorious than the Seraphim.” This myriad of hymns, naturally, has represented a very fruitful ground for composers of Orthodox chants in past centuries and for composers of choral music over the last three centuries.
The same hymnological and musical richness provides a wealth of material for a new CD, Blessed Art Thou among Women (Reference Recordings, FR-737), the latest offering from the PaTRAM Institute Singers, under the direction of Peter Jermihov. This outstanding choral ensemble, assembled from some of the finest choral singers across North America, was honored in 2019 with a Grammy nomination in the “Best Choral Performance” category for their recording of Kurt Sander’s Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. On this album, they transition from unity to diversity, as they perform an array of 25 individual works dedicated to the Mother of God, spanning over three centuries—from Vasily Titov (c.1650–c.1715), the leading composer of Peter the Great’s era, to Sergei Zheludkov (b. 1989), one of the rising Russian composers of the present day. And what a splendid array it is!
The repertoire lineup is indeed star-studded. Here the listener will find hymns that are familiar and widely beloved, such as “Today the Virgin Gives Birth” (Deva dnes’) and “Beneath Thy Compassion” (Pod Tvoyu milost’) by Bortniansky; works by the well known representatives of the Moscow Synodal School—Alexander Kastalsky, Victor Kalinnikov, Pavel Chesnokov, Alexander Gretchaninoff, along with their Sergei Rachmaninoff, who was a kindred spirit; and also, most refreshingly, works by some lesser-known figures of the “New Direction” in Russian church music composition—Alexander Chesnokov (Pavel’s brother), Nikolai Danilin, Nikolai Tcherepnin, Nikolai Tolstiakov, Alexander Nikolsky, and Andrei Ilyashenko; some of their works represent world premiere recordings. Rounding out the program are works by more recent composers, including Boris Ledkovsky, Nikolai Matveyev, and Georgy Sviridov. The musical lineup, thoughtfully assembled into logical sub-units, provides the listener with familiar road markers, as well as the opportunity to broaden and deepen one’s appreciation and acquaintance with the sacred musical treasury of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Throughout the program, there are moments of exquisite choral beauty, punctuated by outstanding solo contributions: by soprano Fotina Naumenko, basso profundo Glenn Miller, baritone Protodeacon Leonid Roschko, and basso profundo Alexis Lukianov, who poignantly intones “Memory eternal” to his late father, Protopresbyter Valery Lukianov (1927–2018), to whose memory this album is dedicated. The recording itself was made in the sumptuous acoustics of St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Howell, New Jersey, which was built by Father Valery. Another special moment is the opening pealing of the cathedral bells, skillfully rung by Fr. Valery’s grandson, Peter Lukianov.
A sample track can be heard here:
In a departure from common practice, the CD booklet contains extensive program notes written by the conductor himself, Maestro Peter Jermihov, who combines his scholarly perspective and performer’s insights to enrich the listeners’ experience with his incisive commentary; anyone who purchases this album as a download will want to obtain and read these liner notes as well.
The release of this fine CD continues the remarkable string of achievements by PaTRAM—the Patriarch Tikhon Russian-American Musical Institute—and its founders Alexis and Katya Lukianov, who have initiated and produced a number of musical initiatives aimed at enriching the modern world through the power of liturgical singing: providing outstanding occasions for high-quality Orthodox sacred music making, chiefly in North America, but also in Russia, in the form of concerts, master classes, and unprecedented recordings, of which this one is but the latest, with more projects in the works. As one enjoys this present offering, one can only wish them continued success!
For more information about this CD, and to order a copy, view the website here.
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