This album of sacred a cappella works from recent years - music of haunting beauty, characterised in turns by calm introspection and serene lightness - offers a fascinating addition to the wide spectrum of works by Valentin Silvestrov on ECM New Series. The imprint, recently named ‘Label of the Year’ in the 2009 Gramophone Awards, has championed the Ukrainian master (born 1937) since 2001, but Sacred Works represents a new development by the composer.
Silvestrov’s compositions for chamber choir have a uniquely transparent sound with otherwordly shifting harmonies and free timing. The pieces were written mostly in 2005/06 on the instigation of chorus master Mykola Hobdych and these ravishing performances – displaying astounding flexibility and polish – are very much “authentic”: the Kiev Chamber Choir have repeatedly studied the pieces with the composer and gave the premières of the majority.
Silvestrov’s interest in the choir came comparatively late. Partly due to conductor Mykola Hobdych’s persistent encouragement, he immersed himself more deeply in the choral world and began to study old Russian litanies. Once he had started reading them, he was so fascinated that he wrote some 40 minutes of music within two weeks. By treating the choir as an ensemble of “extremely modest” soloists and dividing the sections into small groups, Silvestrov acquires unique sonic and harmonic effects and an utmost flexibility of melody and rhythm. Its lyrical fluency and introvert tenderness brings Silvestrov’s choral writing close to his much-lauded Silent Songs, to Requiem for Larissa and his music for solo piano.
18th December 2009
“Here is a ravishing collection of a cappella choral works by the Ukrainian Valentin Silvestrov that perfectly illustrates his own description of his music as “a response to and an echo of what already exists”...Acutely sensitive performances by the Kiev Chamber Choir under Mykola Hobdych...ring out with crystalline beauty in the softly resonant acoustic of Kiev’s Cathedral of the Dormition.”
“The opening track sets the tone for the rest of the disc, a haunting setting of the opening litany of the Divine Liturgy in which the choir "shadows" the priest's petitions… The Kiev Chamber Choir under Mykola Hobdych is in its element and the recorded sound does full justice to Silvestrov's alternately ethereal and earthy sound world.”
22nd November 2009
“Hypnotic and startlingly different, this music has cult potential.”
Click on any of the works listed above for alternative recordings.