In the field of choral music Tchaikovsky is known as the first Russian composer to have composed cycles of the Liturgy and the Vespers, but his considerable output of secular choral music is less well-known, and a delightful surprise. These secular choruses are little jewels, written for various types of choir, with all the familiar qualities of melody and rich harmony that we associate with Tchaikovsky. Some, including Autumn, Child’s Song and A Legend (from 16 Children’s Songs Op.54), and the pastoral Dawn were written for solo voice or duet, and Night, a vocal quartet with piano, but Tchaikovsky soon realised that they sounded better as choruses. Autumn and Child’s Song both have a tenor solo, and contrast well with each other: a misty autumnal poem of lethargic melancholy and a comical, playful little ditty. Another highlight is the melancholy Old French Air, with its timeless charm, which also appears as a minstrel’s song in Tchaikovsky’s opera The Maid of Orléans. Other works of note include the radiant Nature and Love, a sentimental trio for soprano, mezzo and contralto, three-part female chorus and piano, and the meditative nocturne Before Sleep, composed in his student years. Greeting to Anton Rubinstein is an extraordinary seven part piece written for the 50th anniversary of Rubinstein’s career.
The Nightingale is without a doubt Tchaikovsky’s finest achievement in choral music, a magnificent reconstruction of a folk song. The vocal quartet Night is a tribute to Mozart, who Tchaikovsky idolised, and is an arrangement of the middle section of Mozart’s Fantasy in C minor for piano. The finale, Neapolitan Air, is a little choral divertissement whose tune was derived from Swan Lake.
About the performers:
The Moscow Academy of Choral Singing, directed by Victor Popov, specialises in performing Russian choral music.
• 99792 Tchaikovsky: Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, 2CD
• 92148 Schumann: The Complete Secular Choral Works, 4CD
• 6215 Rachmaninov: Vespers opus 37 and Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, 3CD