December 1, 2021
Benedict Sheehan: Vespers
Saint Tikhon Choir/Benedict Sheehan
Capella Records CR423
Total Time: 59:21
Over the last couple of years, Capella Records has released some quite stunning recordings of choral music. They most recently received a Grammy nomination for their recording of the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom. That work, also by Benedict Sheehan, grew out of the Russian Orthodox musical traditions that infuse the work of Russian masters of the 19th and 20th Centuries. The present Vespers takes its inspiration from a similar work by Sergei Rachmaninoff, (All-Night Vigil/Vespers, Op. 37).
Texts are in English here which greatly expands the music’s communicability which is equally coupled with Sheehan’s gorgeous choral style. The piece combines chanted moments that connect to the arching liturgical components with the choral responses often set in rich harmony. These move back and forth from a reaching out sensibility and back to a more central anchored unison. It thus creates a semi-modern interjection into this ancient chant line. The work also includes adaptations of several psalms as well. The fabric of the music also incorporates Byzantine chant motives and melodic formulas which further lend the music its unique sound. What makes the work fascinating is Sheehan’s references to earlier eras of Russian Orthodox choral music. This creates moments of some what closer intervallic relationships that blossom into fuller harmonies. The effect is like moving from the Middle Ages into the current age. There is also a nod given to Baroque style (highlighted in the setting of the Prokeimenon). Slavic choral style permeates the work as a whole now brought into English settings where similar approaches are adapted to the language. The music flows effortlessly from one moment to the next providing opportunity for color changes with various vocal solos. Perhaps the most intriguing is the Song of Simeon which is essentially a mini concerto for basso profundo (!) requiring a quite extraordinary low range (performed here by the superb Glenn Miller). A blend of Rautavaara and Lauridsen in moments of the work can help provide that larger link to approaches by popular current choral composers of which this work should sit rather firmly in the midst.
Having had the opportunity to hear many of Sheehan’s previous works and Capella Records’ dynamic recordings, it may seem a bit redundant to say here that once again they have captured the chorus in a superb acoustic that provides a fine ambience. It allows for the clarity of individual lines as well as a stunning full choral sound that is enhanced by the multi-channel recording. Tossing this into your surround sound system will yield an experience that is quite transcendent. Sheehan’s Vespers is a beautiful work well performed here by committed choristers bringing a sense of religious adoration that transports the listener.