REVIEWS:  pilgrim's star  pps 27004  Pierucci: De Profundis  

Pierucci was born in Italy; since 1988 he has been the organist at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and has written much sacred music. Regina Derieva was born in the Soviet Union; in 1949, she emigrated with her husband and son to go to Israel, where, however they were denied citizenship since they are Catholics. As stateless persons they later found a home when they were allowed to live in Sweden.

The cantata reflects upon the tragedies of suffering mankind, of death, and of the striving of Man to God. Its writing coincided with an exacerbation of the suffering of the Palestine people but makes no direct reference to this.

Despite a theme that many will find shocking, the music is not morbid, on the contrary it is tuneful and uplifting in spirit. It is written in traditional European mode with just a hint of Eastern exoticism and is enjoyable to listen to. The performance and recording is excellent. The presentation is good, and includes the full text of the poems in various languages. The disc also includes two sets of organ variations played by the composer.

The disc can be recommended strongly to lovers of church music.
Arthur Baker

Armando Pierucci studied at the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music in Rome, the Naples Conservatoire and the Rossini Conservatoire in Pesaro. He is a Franciscan monk who is the organist of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and professor of sacred music at the Studium Theologicum Jerusolymitanum.

His cantata ‘De Profundis’, for soprano, choir, string quartet, flute and double bass, sets a cycle of poems by the Russian poet Regina Derieva. It is perhaps useful to recap some of Derieva’s personal history as this is profoundly relevant to her poetry.

In 1991 she and her husband, Alexander, and their son, left Kazakhstan and emigrated to Israel. In many ways they were not different from thousands of Soviet immigrants, except for the fact that in 1990 they took advantage of the new religious freedoms in the Soviet Union and were baptized Roman Catholics. In 1996, the Israeli High Court rejected their application for citizenship, noting that Law of Return, which governs the right of Jews to settle in Israel, excludes Jews who have adopted another faith. However, in the Soviet Union Jewish identity had nothing to do with religion. They became a political conundrum as they could not be deported to the Soviet Union as it did not exist nor could they be deported to another country as they did not have passports. In 1999, after a request of Church officials as well as some articles published in international press, the State of Israel let the Derievs leave. Regina and her husband, who is a well-known icon painter and expert in liturgical music, went to Sweden. Having received an invitation from the Catholic and Lutheran bishops of Sweden, the Derievs left for Stockholm to participate in an ecumenical conference. There they asked for political asylum.

Pierucci’s cantata ‘De Profundis’ was written in 1998 whilst he knew Regina Derieva in Israel. His cantata, 'Via Crucis', also on Pilgrims Star, sets a text Regina Derieva. When the Derievs arrived in Sweden, Alexander Deriev arranged for these recordings and created the Pilgrim’s Star label to release them.

The poems in ‘De Profundis’ obviously have a profound personal significance to both Regina Derieva and Armando Pierucci as the poems have relevance to the events in the Middle East whilst they were both still living there.

Pierucci’s musical language is conservative and should present no problems to most listeners. In fact I became frustrated at times as I felt that the poems demanded a complexity and depth that seemed to be lacking in the music. The choral contribution is fairly conservative, the chorus being restricted to mainly homophony. This is then often surrounded by a web of counterpoint from the string quartet and the flutes. The instrumental ensemble bears the bulk of the polyphony in the work. The chorus also sometimes support the soloist. Mezzo-soprano Ginatre Skeryte has a clean, bright voice but is inclined to sound a little frayed when singing at the top of her range. (The notes describe her variously as a soprano and a mezzo-soprano).

I could not help feeling that Pierucci has felt constrained by his admiration for the poetry. The setting is such that the words are always clear, but I am not a Russian speaker so unable to understand the poetry directly. This is, I suspect, a disadvantage. The piece would probably work best when sung in the language of the hearers so that the music forms a backdrop to Derieva’s profound words. Pierucci’s music never seems to match the profundity of the words; it serves simply as a handmaid who provides a suitable background to facilitate our appreciation.

The issue of the words also made me wonder in what language Pierucci set the poems. Derieva’s poems are written in Russian and they are sung in this language on the recording, but the notes are unclear about what language Pierucci set the poems to music. Russian is a profoundly polysyllabic language, so if Pierucci set the poems in Italian translation this could have a strong effect on the nature of the music. As it is, the music underlying the Russian text contains a suspicious number of repetitive chords.

The Aidija chamber choir sing admirably, with a clear clean tone and they are never stretched by Pierucci’s music. The instrumental players give fine support. Ultimately I was a little disappointed by this piece but I think my reaction might have been a little different if the music had been sung in a language that I understood, permitting me to appreciate directly the beauty of Derieva’s verse.

There are two accompanying items on the disc, both organ variations played by the composer. The first is a set of variations on a theme of the 4 th mode Alleluia which has a strikingly Irish folksong-like cast. The second is the set of variations on a theme from Pierucci’s cantata ‘Via Crucis’. This second set of variations is the longer and more complex one. It gradually winds up into increasing violence and complexity, but with a freedom which made me think that the Variations had their origins in notated improvisations. This piece has the complexity, depth and even violence that is lacking from the ‘De Profundis’ and gives us a glimpse of another aspect of Pierucci’s musical personality. The composer’s own performances are acceptable, though some of the detail is a little smudged.
Robert Hugill

This is a very unusual disc - the composer is an Italian priest resident in the Holy Land, the texts of the main work are in Russian by a Catholic Russian poet who emigrated to Israel but now lives in Sweden, and it was recorded in Lithuania by artists from that Baltic nation. Despite all this there is very much a real musical identity to what goes on here - the recording is fairly rough and ready, almost unlistenably so in the case of the solo organ pieces, but most of the time the music goes well beyond these confines.

The cantata De Profundis, subtitled rather gloomily The Art of Dying, is conceived for chamber forces and as such has a lightness of tone rarely heard in works of this ilk. The music is neo-classical in style, although I can almost hear Finzi, admittedly at his most Bachian, in the slower sections, with flourishes that may fleetingly remind you of the French religious masterpieces of Fauré, Duruflé etc. The poems used for the text are religious, serious and often rather tragic in nature. A glance at some of the titles will show this - "There are disgusting things, which are impossible to count…" and "The fewer former things" - with subject matter relating indirectly to "the new tragedy of the Palestinian people, amongst which both the poet and the composer have lived for about ten years". No doubt this sort of thing would go down like a lead balloon with the Israeli right wing - no wonder Regina Derieva wasn't granted citizenship there. This music, pleasant and well written though it is, does not match the serious intent of the texts and, though very listenable, tends to water down the message intended. It nevertheless remains an interesting listen.

The remaining pieces are solo organ works, recorded earlier, actually in the Holy Land, with the composer playing. The Alleluia Variations are beautiful, almost folklike, if an organ can be! I was less enamoured with the "Via Crucis" Variations which are based on a theme from Pierucci's previous collaboration with Derieva. The recorded sound is appalling but the first set of variations transcends this because of the quality of the inspiration at work. It is important that this sort of project is released and people are given an opportunity to hear it. It is unlikely to top any charts or win any awards but it speaks of emotions, events and situations unfortunately far more real than the glitz and glam of the mainstream. The performers do the music and its composer full justice and the whole enterprise shines out like a beacon of integrity in the midst of compilation and crossover driven blandout.
Neil Horner