Don Cossack Choir/Serge Jaroff
Red Army Ensemble/Vladimir Alexandrov
rec. 1958-1962, stereo ALTO TAKE:2 ALN1959 [77:28]
This bulging portfolio of Russian Favourites for choir is not for the abstemious purist. It's a reflection of the popularity of such touring ensembles during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Tracks 7, 9, 22-24 are by the Red Army Ensemble.
Knipper's Song of the Plains comes complete with slightly contrived novelty clip-clop effects from distance to foreground and away again. In that sense it's just like Borodin's In the Steppes of Central Asia.
Stenka Razin is typically soulful with soloists over a humming choir. That aspect continues with Evening Bells which is oddly evocative of sleepy moonlit nights. Recorded in a lively Paris acoustic, the scintillating Kajushka finds the choir more forwardly and meatily balanced with gleaming parts for accordion and balalaika. The latter also puts in an appearance in the Red Army's Kamarinskaya where the balalaikas give a glintingly steely appearance.
Monotonously rings the bell has those trademark deep basses but also adds what I take to be a clunk from the LP original. Lezginka - starts with a glow but as the volume increases there is the suggestion of distortion. The Credo by Gretchaninov is suitably liturgical while the worldly The Cuckoo includes a folksy innocent accelerando. Worship the Power of Love is more of a hymn related to the ceremonial loftiness of Credo. This is followed by a Verdian marching song. God save thy people feels like something from the first five minutes of the 1812 Overture complete with profundo basses. The Soldiers' Marching Song is forbiddingly stern. The Legend of the 12 Thieves is honeyed and smoothly cultured. Then come two martial tracks: The Don Cossack Anthem with its massed purpose meaning business. There are no falsetto solos just a phalanx of male voices bearing down. Warriors' Prayer is more liturgical in feel; burred yet sweet of tone.
The folksong A birch tree stood in a meadow is the one used by Balakirev and Tchaikovsky in their orchestral works. This rises to a virtuoso performance with instrumentals adding graces to the choral flow. More instrumentals distinguish the jolly and jaunty You are always beautiful. In Dubinushka you can almost see those impossibly extravagant peaked army caps worn by the choir members. Try a search on YouTube to see what I mean.
The disc closes in massed emphatic style with the Anthem of the Soviet Union. This is a great, inspiring and challenging hymn projected with roar and glower. It has a confidence that feeds on itself bar by bar. It vies with the Marseillaise as one of the most impressively gargantuan national calls to patriotism.
No words are provided but there's a good note which someone has taken punctilious trouble to up-date to include the Black Sea air-crash in which the Red Army Ensemble lost its complete line-up.
A generously timed bargain collection of massed Russian choral singing. Rob Barnett
1. Song of the Plains/Meadowland) (Knipper) (solo: B. Balatine) 2:21
2. Stenka Razin (solo: J. Assur) 3:51
3. Kajushka with Troika (live, Paris) 1:56
4. Evening Bells 2:37
5. Green Grass / Kalinka (solos: G. Tymchenko; J. Seiffert; P. Myhalik) 3:23
6. Dark Eyes 3:54
7. Kamarinskaya* 2:15
8. Monotonously Rings the Little Bell 3:46
9. Dubinushka* 3:40
10. Lezginka 3:35
11. Cavalry Song (solo: J. Beresoff) 2:32
12. Credo (Gretchaninov) (solos: G. Tymchenko; P. Myhalik) 4:29
13. The Cuckoo 2:27
14. Worship the Power of Love (Bortniansky) 3:13
15. Russian Polka 1:55
16. God Save Thy People 2:55
17. Soldiers' Marching Song (solos: I. Corvin-Egle; J. Resnikoff) 2:19
18. Legend of the 12 Thieves (solo: J. Assur) 5:48
19. Along the Street (Warlamoff) (solo: I. Corvin-Egle) 2:37
20. Don Cossack Anthem 1:33
21. The Warriors' Prayer (solos: N. Naneff; P. Myhalik 4:34
22. A Birch Tree Stood in a Meadow* 3:22
23. You Are Always Beautiful* (Mokrousov) 3:23
24. Anthem of the Soviet Union* 3:40
* Red Army Ensemble/Alexander Alexandrov