REVIEWS:  pilgrim's star  pps 27002  PIerucci: Via Crucis  


There is something edifying about the beautiful delivery of Via Crucis, a shy, simple 50-minute retelling of the 14 Stations of the Cross. The music, by Fr, Armando Pierucci, ofm, organist at the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, seems to cross many barriers. It takes as its basis a series of poems by the Russian Roman Catholic poet Regina Derieva. Pierucci’s restrained settings not only feel apt for the forces (the Lithuanian Chamber Choir Aidija), but embrace an idiom that is timeless.

The choruses, solos and organ interludes are simple and diatonic, yet somehow fresh and original. The four soloists are first class. English and Italian translations are included.
Roderic Dunnett

Pierucci's cantata "Via Crucis" is a most remarkable work. The text was written by the Russian poet, resident in Israel, Regina Derieva and consists of a cycle of philosophical meditations on the fourteen Stations of the Cross together with a poem "Kto tam" which forms both the prologue and epilogue. It was set to music in 1996 for soloists, chorus and organ by Fr Armando Pierucci, organist at the catholic Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It has now been recorded for the first time (March 1998) in St Kasimir's Church in Vilnius, Lithuania by the "Aidija" Chamber Chorus with four soloists - all of them graduates of the Lithuanian Academy of Music and established singers on the international opera circuit. The recent date of composition need not deter listeners who consider themselves generally untuned to music of the late 20th century.

The music is highly traditional and, whilst it is in no way derivative, it will appeal to those who love the choral music of Faure, Rachmaninov and Elgar. The music does not tire after a few hearings; indeed its spiritual depths become gradually more appreciable with repetition. As with all great music, it can be perceived at different levels; individual listeners will no doubt find it their own particular exploration of interior emotion. Two complementary but distinct modes of listening recommend themselves: One is the more systematic - to follow the translated text of each meditation whilst reading in parallel the prayers from the Missal which accompany Christ on his journey from death sentence to crucifixion and burial. This approach may well appeal to practising Catholics in their passiontide devotions. The other mode is to allow the ineffable qualities of the music and Russian words to take one on a less defined psychedelic journey without giving too much analytical thought to the literal meanings. Like Elgar's "The Dream of Gerontius", this work is at once both explicitly anchored in Christian (indeed specifically catholic) faith, and at the same time resonates with all those (of any religious faith or none) who find inspiration in the drama of the journey of the human soul through direst adversity to an ultimate state of joy and triumph.

Throughout most of this cantata, the words and music match (either obviously or more subtly) the events of each Station: for instance, the exchange between mother and son at Station 4 is directly mirrored in the antiphonal singing of the bass and mezzo-soprano soloists. On occasions however, the connections are less clear: what precisely has the meditation on the Light of Heaven at Station 5 to do with Simon Cyreni's carrying the cross of Jesus? And why is the nailing to the cross of Station 11 set to a vigorous Allegro choral fugato? There are surreal elements in this music! Be that as it may, the joyful fortissimo ending of Station 14, with its anticipation of the Resurrection triumph, is the most fitting climax of the whole cantata toward which the earlier quiet contemplative movements have been inexorably leading.

The quality of choral and soloist singing is of high excellence throughout - likewise the organ playing; it is a pity there are no biographical notes about the organist D.Ckramtai. A question that must be asked is: Why were operatic soloists, excellent though they be, employed in this recording? Unlike oratorio, this cantata is music for church performance rather than theatre or concert hall. Would not the tonal qualities of cathedral cantors have been more appropriate? A useful addition to the accompanying booklet would have been to provide the original Russian text (transliterated please!) as well as the English and Italian translations, the better to appreciate the sonorous sound of the Russian vowels. I have a suspicion that the (unfortunately anonymous) translator concentrated too much on literal word for word translation, so that the English reads like stilted prose having lost the poetic resonance of the Russian original. These reservations apart, this music is a major discovery and proof positive that great choral writing did not die with Elgar in 1934. It is to be hoped that this cantata will be picked up by choral societies and receive a richly deserved place in the choral repertory.  Award * * * * (*)
Humphrey Smith

FANFARE (USA): (extract)
[The music] is simple, slow-moving, making its calm way forward in straightforward melodic lines. Reliable performances, good sound.
Martin Anderson

CHOIR & ORGAN Magazine:
If you’re looking for a contemplative and devotional Lenten and Passiontide listening experience then [this CD] is a welcome break from Stainer’s Crucifixion.

Via Crucis is a cantata by Fr. Armando Pierucci, with texts by the Russian poet Regina Derieva, in the form of meditations based on the Stations of the Cross. One could be forgiven for raising an eyebrow at the prospect of an Italian priest setting Russian words and the whole lot being sung by a Lithuanian choir and a varied selection of soloists. Well, surprisingly, it all fits together quite neatly. You can’t get more cosmopolitan than that. The musical language of Fr. Pierucci is eclectic and none the worse for it. He blends Italianate lyricism with Slav majesty and gravitas. I found the result fascinating if not always convincing. Quite whether this style will become liturgically adopted in the Roman Church I rather doubt, and probably more’s the pity. It would be an improvement on much of the ephemeral tripe that has been on offer of late.

The singing, from both the soloists and from the choir is, not surprisingly, excellent. The accompanist is good, though the instrument, an un-named electronic organ, is dire. The addition at one point of an electronic keyboard ( or possibly an organ stop) rankled considerably. All that said, I reckon that if you put a stylophone in St. Kasimir’s Church in Vinius it would sound brilliant. The acoustic and the engineering are first rate, a big pity about the instrument. [** NB but see review below for contrary view!] Overall, it’s a disc worth buying for the singing alone and what is, in all honesty, an interesting work. It may convince one day – see what you think.
Peter Beaven

The genre of 20 th century Catholic church music by members of the clergy is a genuinely fascinating one, and this new cantata on the Stations of the Cross by Fr Armando Pierucci follows in the notable line of works by such masters as Don Lorenzo Perosi. Pierucci was born in 1935 and, as we have every right to expect, is musically a traditionalist. If there is barely a phrase, or a progression, in the work which would have surprised Buxtehude, in taking Christ’s dictum: “The same yesterday, today and tomorrow” as a starting point, Pierucci has created a deeply-felt and clearly moving work of art, given the right circumstances of performance, which is exceptionally well performed and recorded here by Lithuanian forces singing in Russian. The rich acoustic suits the music well, and it is a welcome surprise to encounter such a fine Organ in this part of Northern Europe.

In many ways this authentic piece deserves a wide audience, and one can readily imagine it fulfilling a need amongst the more musical of our parish church choirs, particularly those looking for a refreshing and modern, yet basically traditional piece for performance at Eastertime.

It is the text by the Russian poet Regina Derieva that additionally sets this work somewhat apart… her lines “a man who lives in the sick Fatherland in the Satanic years suddenly understands that the sense of life is only in God” combine to make a thoughtful and penetrating text, well captured by this genuine and gifted composer… A fascinating and, in its way, important issue to which I have returned often with growing compulsion and interest.
Robert Matthew-Walker


I'm indebted to Stephen Sutton of Divine Art for suggesting that I listen to this recording, another of their successful forays into the Baltic states. (See the very different Five-Fifteen recording from Estonia, a wonderful recreation of 1930s dance-band style which I reviewed in November 2010).

Humphrey Smith awarded four-and-a-half stars in 1999 which seems to me about right, though I don't share his reservation about the use of operatic voices: the soprano Gintaré Skeryté is particularly impressive. The music is not especially dramatic, but it is often impassioned as the text meditates on the Stations of the Cross, displayed around the walls of Roman Catholic and many Anglican churches. That text (in Russian), by Regina Derieva, comes from the Uniate tradition, spanning the Orthodox and Catholic traditions, as represented at papal ceremonies by the deacon of the Greek rite.

Unfortunately none of the download or streaming sources provides anything in the way of notes, much less texts. With the CD costing little more, direct from Divine Art you may prefer to listen first via the Naxos Music Library and order the physical disc when you are as impressed as I'm sure you will be.
Brian Wilson