Valentin Silvestrov: Sacred Works

Kyiv Chamber Choir, Mykola Hobdych

CD18,90 out of print

This album of sacred a-cappella works from recent years offers a most fascinating addition to the wide spectrum of music by Valentin Silvestrov on ECM New Series. Silvestrov’s interest in the choir came compartively late in his career. “Being an individualist, I never imagined that I would be scoring choral works”, he has said. It was partly due to conductor Mykola Hobdytsch persistent encouragement that Silvestrov decided to immerse himself more deeply into the choral world and to study old Russian litanies. Once he had started reading them, the composer was so fascinated that, within a couple of weeks, he wrote some 40 minutes of music. By treating the choir as an ensemble of “extremely modest” soloists and dividing the sections into small groups Silvestrov acquires unique sonic and harmonic effects and an utmost flexibility of melody and rhythm. Its lyrical fluency and introvert tenderness brings Silvestrov’s choral writing close to his much-lauded “Silent Songs” to “Requiem for Larissa” and his music for solo piano. The ravishing performances from the Kiev chamber choir under Mykola Hobdytsch were recorded in Kiev in 2006 and 2007.

Featured Artists Recorded

2006-2007, Cathedral of the Dormition, Pechersk Lavra, Kyiv

Original Release Date


  • Liturgical Chants
    (Valentin Silvestrov, Traditional)
  • 1Litany07:47
  • 2Christmas Song01:36
  • 3Dithyrambic Song01:27
  • 4Cherubic Song01:20
  • 5Alleluia01:43
  • 6Bless the Lord, o my soul03:58
  • 7O Holy God02:52
  • 8The Creed06:40
  • 9Gloria01:38
  • 10Cherubic Hymn02:59
  • 11The Beatitudes06:24
  • 12Ave Maria02:25
  • Two Spiritual Songs
    (Valentin Silvestrov, Traditional)
  • 13Alleluia02:36
  • 14Ave Maria03:20
  • Two Spiritual Chants
    (Valentin Silvestrov, Traditional)
  • 15A Mercy of Peace03:41
  • 16To Thee we Sing02:10
  • Two Psalms of David
    (Valentin Silvestrov, Traditional)
  • 17O Lord, rebuke me not (Psalm 37)03:48
  • 18O Praise God in His Sanctuary (Psalm 150)02:33
  • Diptych
  • 19The Lord's Prayer
    (Valentin Silvestrov, Traditional)
  • 20Testament
    (Valentin Silvestrov, Taras Hryhorovych Shevchenko)
  • Alleluia (2006)
    (Valentin Silvestrov, Traditional)
  • 21Evening01:29
  • 22Morning01:55
  • 23Night02:34
Luister, Editor’s Choice
These a cappella sacred songs recorded in the Cathedral of the Dormition, Kiev, have a self-contained beauty, politically out of fashion in the Soviet ear but now finding free expression… His „Liturgical Chants“, together with hymns, psalms and an Alleluja mostly written in the past five years, have a burnished, almost disembodied quality, richly communicated in the open-throated timbre of the Kiev Chamber Choir. Hypnotic and startlingly different, this music has cult potential.
Fiona Maddocks, The Observer
Hans-Klaus Jungheinrich’s notes speak of a golden ground, as in an icon, from which voices emerge, and such an image is certainly appropriate, especially given the superb homogeneity of the Kiev Chamber Choir’s sound… The choir… is in its element and the recorded sound does full justice to Silvestrov’s alternately ethereal and earthy sound world.
Ivan Moody, Gramophone
Silvestrov strikes me as an artist who continues to write music that is deeply rooted in his culture, and in a tradition of the sacred and the beautiful, and who yet also continues to put his personal stamp on it, almost despite himself. … It’s elevated music-making, a sustained prayer.
Robert Carl, Fanfare
Here is a ravishing collection of a cappella choral works by the Ukrainian Valentin Silvestrov that perfectly illustrates his own description of his music as „ a response to and an echo of what already exists“. … It is the sheer beauty of sound that catches the ear. Luminous and lyrical, these miniature settings of hymns, psalms and chants seem to float in a diaphanous light that hypnotically conjures up a fleeting sense of the ineffability of faith.
Michael Quinn, BBC Online
Silvestrov’s choral music is an exploration of harmonic effects. Treating the choir as ‘expressively restrained soloists’, he divides them into small groups that create echoing waves of sound. Silvestrov regards his choral music as being ‘pianistic’. The effect is similar to a judicious use of the sustaining pedal. The result is warm and lyrical. … The outstanding Kiev Chamber Choir are worthy of ten stars! Their warm, tender, lyrical singing, musicianship and breath control is unbelievable.
Shirley Ratcliffe, Choir & Organ
Das Subjektive tritt in den A-cappella-Sätzen von Silvestrovs Liturgischen Gesängen, Geistlichen Liedern, Psalmvertonungen und seinem Alleluja ganz zurück zugunsten einer spirituellen Haltung, die mit kollektiver Zunge spricht. … Die Interpretationen des Kiewer Kammerchors verstärken den Eindruck des Liturgisch-Überpersönlichen noch. Mit großer Ruhe entfalten sich die einzelnen Vokalsätze, in denen der Komponist offenbar manchmal bewusst benachbarte Akkorde ineinander verfließen lässt. Zwar treten häufig Solostimmen heraus, die Impulse setzen, bleiben jedoch stets an die Einheit des Gesamtklangs gebunden. Nahezu glockenartig werden die Töne und Klänge angestoßen, und glockenartig schwingen sie wieder aus, ein schillerndes und fluktuierendes Obertonspektrum hinterlassend.
Gerhard Dietel, Neue Zeitschrift für Musik
Sacred a cappella music is a hitherto unknown aspect in the work of Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov who has been championed by ECM New Series since 2001. By treating the choir as an ensemble of “expressively restrained soloists” (Silvertrov) and dividing the sections into small groups the composer acquires unique sonic and harmonic effects and utmost flexibility of melody and rhythm. The immaterial sound of his choral settings seems to underline his own comment about his own music being “the world singing of itself”. The vocally outstanding performances were realised in close collaboration with the composer in 2006 and 2007 and previously released in the Ukraine yet not distributed internationally.

While concentrating on piano and chamber music and on symphonic works for decades Silvestrov turned to choral composition relatively late in his career. “Being an individualist, choirs were never my initial interest. The piano – there lies my fate”, he once said. In 1977, shortly after completing his “Silent Songs” (ECM 1898/99) he wrote an a cappella cantata based on verses by Taras Schewtschenko but it took almost twenty years until the piece received its première. “Diptych” (1995) was followed by the large-scale “Requiem for Larissa” (ECM 1778) in which Silvestrov tried to overcome his wife’s early demise.

It was Mykola Hobdych’s relentless encouragement that motivated Silevstrov to immerse himself more deeply into the choral world and to study old Russian litanies. “Mykola brought me masses of music with liturgies by other composers, and in one of them I found the entire texts of the divine liturgy of St. John Chrysostomos. About the general picture I had not yet made up my mind but the first litany I read gave me an initial impulse on the spot. I touched it and the text started to resonate in me.” Within a few weeks the cycle of “Liturgical Chants” was completed. While liturgical elements from the orthodox church form the backbone the music is not intended to be used in ritualistic contexts. The overall design follows immanent musical principles and the setting of the words is imbued by ecumenism. The emotional approach on the other hand is characterised by subjective lyricism. Silvestrov considers his choral music to be essentially pianistic with the piano keys being replaced by singing voices: “It’s situational singing without any directional indications” he told Mykola Hobdych.

The Kiev Chamber Choir was founded in 1990 by its director Mykola Hobdych and graduates from Ukrainian conservatories and universities. It subsequently won various European choral competitions and participated in more than twenty international music festivals. The choir has toured extensively and recorded more than 30 CDs.