Maksym Berezovsky – Ukrainian Sacred Music – Vidrodzhennya Chamber Choir – CB4730


“This is a beautifully performed and well-recorded set. The music is intensely sacred, but descends weightlessly upon the listener.

“Fine performances of a little-known Ukrainian orthodox liturgical chant settings”

“Recommended to all collectors of Eastern Orthodox liturgical chant”

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MAKSYM BEREZOVSKY was one of the most outstanding Ukrainian composers of the 18th century and the creator of the national classical choral concerto. It was the first time a Ukrainian composer had incorporated in his compositions all the leading genres of Western European music: operas, chamber instrumental works and new church choral forms. Berezovsky’s life was a vivid performance with brilliant flights and headlong descents, reminiscent of the colourful adventure stories of that period. Combined with the lack of major biographical details, the extreme successes and disappointments of his life gave rise to Berezovsky being romanticised in popular and adventure fiction. To date, little of the path of his life has been uncovered. The composer’s very date of birth (1745?-1777) is subject to doubt and, in terms of his origins and training, only verbal accounts exist to confirm that the future composer was born to “Cossacks in the town of Glukhov” in the Eastern Ukraine, his father’s name being Sozont, and that he was a student of the Kyivan-Mohylan Academy.

Berezovsky had a fine voice and from 1758, sang in the choir of the great prince Pavel Fedorovich in the town of Oranienbaum (now known as Lomonosov, near Saint Petersburg). Then, in 1762, he was admitted to the “Italian Chapel Choir” of the St. Petersburg court. In the 1760s, influenced by the sacred concertos created by the Italian court composers, Berezovsky began to write choral works in the new “Italian” style. These compositions were well received at the Russian court. At the end of the 1760s, Berezovsky was sent to Italy to study under the world-renowned Padre Gianbattista Martini in Bologna, who spoke approvingly of his pupil’s talent as a musician. In May 1771, Berezovsky was successful in being elected to the Bologna Philharmonic Academy and received the title of Academy Composer (accademico- compositore). In Italy, under the guidance of his famous preceptor, Berezovsky wrote an opera and a violin sonata, which became the first examples of these genres in both Ukrainian and Russian music. To this period can be attributed the majority of his choral works and his small-scale liturgical forms, a portion of which, fortunately, have been tracked down. The tragedy of Berezovsky’s life began upon his return to Saint Petersburg in 1773. The few years which the musician, acclaimed in Europe, spent in fruitless searches for work in the Russian capital, resulted in a deep depression, which ultimately led to his untimely death in March 1777. “And just as through his death nothing of him remained, nothing could warm his body…” – these are the words in a memorandum by the director of the Russian court theatres, Ivan Yelagin, on the death of one of the most remarkable composers of Eastern Europe and the Bologna Academy of Music, Maksym Berezovsky.

Although Maksym Berezovsky’s output was fairly diverse: choral concertos, cantatas, liturgical verses, opera and instrumental chamber works, most of these compositions have not been found. For example, of the 18 choral concertos known in the record, a total of three have been found and in terms of the authenticity of the compositions, we only know of a single sheet music autograph – the examination antiphony, which he wrote during his exam for election to the Academy of Music in the Bologna Philharmonic Academy. And so the mystery of Berezovsky endures. Having said this, what has been discovered of Berezovsky’s legacy is striking for its exceptional originality, the boldness of his creative quest, its clarity of form and strength of expression. The acuity of the dramatic conflicts, the exceptional feeling for social injustice aroused by Berezovsky with such titanic force, is such that his work can be ranked alongside that of the most distinguished masters of his era. In his brief life he made the great journey from Baroque to Classicism, while his range of genres stretches from opera seria (Demofoonte) to instrumental chamber music (sonata for violin and cembalo). Despite this, Berezovsky is above all famous for his choral works. It was precisely the church choirs and choral concertos that stretched Berezovsky’s powerful talent to its fullest extent. Not only did he create the form of the four movement classical choral concerto but he was also the first to raise the theme of the suffering of the Creator to the level of the philosophical concept of the battle between good and evil. The strength of expression of this concept elevates Berezovsky’s compositions to the standing of international masterpieces of the cultural musical world such as those of the later works of Mozart and the symphonies of Beethoven.

The lyrical and dramatic nature of Berezovsky’s talent allowed him to create a series of liturgical works. Here, clear and pure religious feelings are expressed in an uplifting manner, with a joyous, spiritual ecstasy that is reminiscent of the light-filled forms of Palestrina, while the expressive melodism in which intonations of Ukrainian songs are perceived, captivates the soul, with the force and depth of the emotion. A true professional, Berezovsky employed a wide intonatory spectrum in his work, bringing together evident characteristics of the past with foretastes of later influences.

Berezovsky’s choral works enable us to follow the complex development of changes in style occurring in the musical culture of that period. With time, his early opuses, which reconstruct the sonority of the Baroque choral concerto, give way to refinement of form and the thematic expressiveness of later classical compositions. Berezovsky was innovative. He forged new paths in patriotic music. Faithful reproduction of themes and ideas that were contemporary to him necessitated a fresh musical language and unaccustomed musical forms. With Berezovsky, the structure of the one movement Baroque choral concerto was reshaped into the more progressive form of a unified choral concerto, which the Ukrainian Andriy Rachinsky and the Italians Vinzenzo Manfredini and Baldassare Galuppi were the first to begin to promote in the Russian Empire. Berezovsky consolidated his unified structural form in the choral concertos, which became a template for later classical composers such as Dmitro Bortnyansky and Artem Vedel.

Berezovsky’s output was forgotten until the middle of the nineteenth century when, once again, his compositions began to be performed, creating an interest that led to greater research and analysis of his work. Events at the beginning of the twentieth century cut short this process and obliterated a significant quantity of the composer’s music. It was not until the second half of the twentieth century that his work gradually experienced a revival. The compositions that had been discovered immediately entered into the musical context and his music was then widely promoted in the Ukraine, Russia and Western Europe. The manifest creativity of these compositions led to a reappraisal of the history of Ukrainian and Russian music in the eighteenth century and brought to light the role played by Berezovsky, as well as Dmitro Bortnyansky and Artem Vedel, in the process to establish a professional school of composers in the Ukraine and Russia.

LITURGY. Berezovsky founded the unified choral Liturgy in the eighteenth century, most probably in the 1770s, during his period in Italy. The Liturgy is stylistically homogeneous and has clear indications as to its structural unity.

Berezovsky did not follow in the tradition of previous Ukrainian composers who set the Liturgy and who were noted for the indeterminate quantity of verses and inconsistency in style of texture. He attempted to introduce some order into the Liturgy, extracting from it a quantity of short chants and concentrating on the seven most important. Each of these chants has a distinctive role as a liturgical focus. It is possible that in this, Berezovsky was trying to bring the musical form of the Orthodox Liturgy closer to the Catholic Mass. The Liturgical chants are noteworthy for their sparing but very expressive and beautiful melodies, with hints of Ukrainian folk tunes. The powerful inner harmony of movement creates tension in the chants, (Only- begotten, Come, let us worship, etc.) which puts them on a par with major dramatic works of the period. At the same time, Berezovsky was the first to make original use of the native tradition of chordal (homophonic) choral recitation, know as a church “recitation” (/ believe and Holy God), creating little masterpieces of Orthodox Church singing (/ believe, for example, was published several times during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries).

EUCHARISTIC VERSES. This is a large unifying choral structure, which consists of incantations created during a different period. Some Eucharistic verses have not been found. A portion the Eucharistic verses tracked down were most probably created during his period in Italy (Praise the Lord in Heaven, Intended for You, The Blessed I’ve Already Chosen). Up until now a few of the incantations have given rise to doubt among some musicologists as to whether they could be ascribed to Maksym Berezovsky. It is for this reason that only Eucharistic verses that have been adequately attributed have been included on the disc. Judging by the number of Eucharistic verses already known, Berezovsky was the first to practise the native tradition of this liturgical form of incantation, thereby possibly endowing them with the form of the musical unity. Eucharistic verse represents a small-scale liturgical verse form, which consists of a two-stanza verse and a refrain to “Alleluia”. Berezovsky turned these small incantations into complex polyphonic compositions, which are closer to the choral concertos, both in form (Praise the Lord) and meaning (Come upon us, The Blessed I’ve Already Chosen). In the large-scale polyphonic form of the Eucharistic verse, the composer expanded the majestic picture into an unbounded universe, interlaced with a filigree of bright joyous images. The most delicate braiding of polyphonic voices carries listeners into a world of divine love and beauty, achieving great impact, equalled only by composers like Palestrina and Rachmaninov. The Eucharistic verses represent one of Berezovsky’s highest attainments, while the artistic qualities of those, for example, such as The Blessed I’ve Already Chosen, are unparalleled not only in Ukrainian but in European music.

CHORAL CONCERTOS. Only one of the three attributed choral concertos has been included on the disc, Let the Lord enthrone. Although one of Berezovsky’s early works, this concerto clearly relates to new period for Berezovsky – the period of the structurally unified concerto. It is a eulogistic work permeated with praise for the Creator and His actions (the words of the 92nd Psalm). The bright, joyous nature of this work and its simple thematism bear witness to the composer’s efforts to imbue it with features learned from his Italian tutors. The finely-balanced structure of the four movement concerto and the skilful technique of masterly choral writing are a testament to the sound teaching Berezovsky received and, as a result, we have before us a fully-formed work in a new genre. The choral concertos of Berezovsky represent some of the highest achievements in the Ukrainian and Russian schools of music of the 18th century, while the most famous of them – the concerto Cast Me Not Away in the Time of Age brought world-wide renown to its composer. Berezovsky, in his choral concertos, was at the forefront with some of the most admired humanists of his time and, at times, even outstripped them, anticipating and raising issues that would arouse disquiet, but only among the next generation, especially through the works of Beethoven. The music in Berezovsky’s concertos has such capacity and depth of structure that each generation of music lover will interpret the works in its own way and discover the timeless quality of their harmony.

The value of these works is not merely that they have enriched the European treasure house of music but that through Maksym Berezovsky, notwithstanding his younger compatriots, Dmitro Bortnyansky and Artem Vedel, we have been afforded an insight into the Ukrainian soul.


Vidrodzhennya Chamber Choir

The Chamber Choir “Vidrodzhennya” (Revival) first appealed before audiences in 1985 with a programme of newly discovered works by the Ukrainian composer Maksym Berezovsky. By 1988 the choir was regularly acquainting the Ukrainian music public with the ancient native classical music.

 The choir has united the enthusiasts of Ukrainian sacred music and Ukrainian history, taking part in many festivals, radio and television broadcasts, performing church services in Ukrainian churches and giving lecture concerts with performances based on. or partially built on the unknown Ukrainian works.

 The choir (between 20 & 25 strong) is made up of carefully selected voices that are able to achieve a convincing level of artistic interpretation and master extremely complicated programmes. The “Vidrozhennya” choir has received critical acclaim from both home and abroad taking part in the sacred music festival in Szczecin. Poland in 1990 and 1992 and performing as special guests in Italy in 1991. The choir won the Grand Prize and Gold Medal at the “Professor Georgi Dimitrof International May Choir Contest” Varna (Bulgaria) in 1993 and the Second Prize at the International Competition “Florilege vocal de Tours” (France) in 1994. The choir also participated in the International Choir Contest “Grand Prix European” in Toloso, (Spain) 1994.

 The “Vidrodzhennya” choir was founded by its artistic director and conductor Mstyslav Yurchenko. He was bom in 1951 in Kyiv, he is a professional choir-master graduating from Kyiv State Conservatory and is associate professor of the State Institute of Culture.

 As a Doctor of the history of art and scientist, Mstyslav Yurchenko is on a continual search in the field of ancient Ukrainian sacred music and publishes the collections of newly found works of native musical classics, he also writes articles on scientific and popular issues.

Review – Fanfare Magazine

Fine performances of a little-known Ukrainian orthodox liturgical chant settings

This is a rerelease of a CD originally issued in 2001, which was not received by Fanfare for review at that time. Back in 33:3 the late Ron Salemi provided an overview of what little is known of the life and career of the brief-lived Maxim (or Maksym, as it is spelled on this disc) Berezovsky (c. 1745–1777), in a review of a 2009 Caro Mitis issue of some of the surviving secular music. (The traditional story is that Berezovsky committed suicide after returning from studies in Italy when he could not find a position in St. Petersburg, although an alternative account attributes his death to a sudden fever.) J. F. Weber reviewed a previous 1996 Sonora disc of Berezovsky’s sacred choral music further back in 20:4; I have not heard it, but the contents of that disc appear to be virtually identical with those featured here.

Berezovsky’s music lies solidly within the Orthodox chant tradition of the 18th century, with the type of Western influences also found in the contemporaneous works of Dmitri Bortniansky and Artemy Vedel adding an additional degree of melodic and harmonic sweetness. It is well crafted, beguiling, and restful, and the Vidrodzhennya Chamber Choir under Mstislav Yurchenko renders it all with great beauty and precision in fine recorded sound. The translations of some of the liturgical text titles (unfortunately no texts are provided) are decidedly unidiomatic and awkward. I have corrected those that I could, but have been defeated in my attempts to uncover what the incoherent “Creating the Angels their ghosts” is actually supposed to be. Recommended to all collectors of Eastern Orthodox liturgical chant.
James A. Altena.

Reviewed in the United States on August 6, 2019

Amazon Review
“This is a beautifully performed and well-recorded set. The music is intensely sacred, but descends weightlessly upon the listener.
The chorus is balanced and wonderfully adept at expressing nuance without calling attention to themselves. Whether you’re aim is to enhance contemplative prayer and worship time or just to enjoy the sublimity of these pieces, you’ll be glad you downloaded”
Wanny 3000
Recorded by my great friend and colleague Yuri Vinnik