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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