Sheehan: Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom - Sheehan
Cappella Records CR421 (2 discs)
Classical - Vocal
Benedict Sheehan: Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, Cherubic Hymn, Communion Hymn
Timothy Parsons, countertenor
Michael Hawes, baritone
Jason Thoms, bass
The Saint Tikhon Choir
Benedict Sheehan, conductor
Sheehan’s Liturgy is the first of four planned releases on Cappella Records produced by multi-GRAMMY® Award winner Blanton Alspaugh and the engineering team at Soundmirror. Soundmirror’s outstanding orchestral, solo, opera, and chamber recordings have received more than 100 GRAMMY® nominations and awards, with releases on every major classical label.
This is also the first release of The Saint Tikhon Choir on Cappella Records. The Choir recently recorded a collaboration on Naxos with three other choirs and the Orchestra of St. Lukes conducted by Leonard Slatkin which debuted at #1 on Billboard. They also previously recorded the sacred works of Benedict Sheehan for Saint Tikhon’s Monastery Press.
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Review by Adrian Quanjer - October 21, 2020
‘In times of difficulty and insecurity, like now with a highly contagious virus spreading over the world, people will search for something tangible to hold on to. Something that gives warmth and hope, doesn’t change and has already for a long time been an unshakable part of humanity’.
This is what crossed my mind when I received this latest release of Cappella Records. The composition may be new, the worship isn’t. The Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom is as old as Byzantine Christianity and has comforted millions of souls since. When listening to it I became wondrously aware that the magic of what Benedict Sheehan conveys so impressively with this world premiere recording, may offer to many, whether or not being an active believer, that so much needed refuge.
This is the first of a series of 4 to be produced by Blanton Alspaugh with the Soundmirror engineering team. And to further underscore Cappella Records’ ambition, Sheehan has taken with him the professional singers of the Saint Tikhon Monastery in Pennsylvania. Lovers of Orthodox music could not have wished for more.
Were this one to be compared to a similar, recent Reference Recordings release with the PaTRAM Institute Singers and Peter Jermihov conducting, then major differences would have to be taken into consideration. Not least that it is written by another composer, with different objectives (Kurt Sander), covering the complete liturgy, whereas Sheehan’s is presented here in an abridged version. Moreover, in the words of the composer: “I have endeavored to build a 21st - century American Orthodox Liturgy upon the resistant foundation of the Russian Orthodox musical tradition”. But perhaps even more important to readers of this site, the RR release is not available in a physical (SACD) format.
As suggested above, this new version conforms to the traditional Russian style, perhaps more audaciously building on the musical footprints of Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky. Listeners will be pleased to hear that it has a familiar ring around it. Be this as it may, it is above all the excellence of singers and soloists that will emphatically catch your critical ear. Living on the other side of the large North Atlantic pond, I must quite frankly admit that I had not heard of any of them before. Familiar with Cappella Romana and the PaTRAM Institute Singers, both of which I rate to be at least equal to many of the best East-European Orthodox Choirs, I was more than surprised to discover in the Saint Tikhon Monastery choir yet another top-class evidence of active American Orthodox tradition.
As further proof of Benedict Sheehan's aiming for no less than the best, each of the soloists has been carefully handpicked by the members of the choir to fulfill their designed part with so much conviction. The commanding voices of Michael Hawes and Jason Thoms stand out clearly. Though countertenors were originally borne out of sheer necessity, and hence in our time not always the best choice for the part, I can confirm that Timothy Parsons, divine worship obliging, is now one the happy few in my book who is.
Summing it up, Benedict Sheehan must be congratulated for having added another one to the many already existing versions of the Orthodox Devine Liturgy worth hearing and admiring. He has, of course, the advantage of being an experienced choir director and knowing best his own composition. Together with his choristers and prime soloists, everything falls into place. But if I had to single out one of the tracks that fits best my thoughts as expressed at the beginning, then I would select number 11 ‘Anaphora’. It is a balm for mine and possibly many other souls; it is as intense as it is exquisite.
For completeness' sake, it should be noted that this new version, using the official English text, has been commissioned by the Patriarch Tikhon Russian-American Music Institute (PaTRAM Institute). For illuminating details about these for many perhaps not so easy to understand religious matters I may urge you to read the interesting and well-written liner notes.
Sound & sight-wise, there is an abundant choice: A conventional CD plus a Blu-Ray Pure Audio 2.0 stereo and 5.1 surround DTS MA 24/192, with 2 additional video tracks taken during the recording sessions May 2020 at the St. Stephen’s Pro-Cathedral, Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania with Mark Donahue doing the mixing and the mastering. And if this wasn’t enough, a two hours video of the complete Divine Liturgy celebration held in October 2019 at the St. Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral in Washington D.C. is included, with all its pomp and circumstance. A document to cherish.
Blangy-le-Château, Normandy, France.
Copyright © 2020 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net