“Perfection” is a term that is not to be dispensed lightly with regards to musical performances or recordings. When it comes to recordings of sacred choral music from the Orthodox tradition, perfection is an even more elusive quality: many recordings nowadays, emanating both from Russian and the West, exhibit a high degree of professionalism and purely musical excellence. But when it comes to Orthodox sacred music, there is yet another very subtle quality that, even under the best of circumstances, can still elude the performers: the quality of “churchliness” or “ecclesiality,” which comes with being firmly and totally grounded in tradition. It has to do with the attitude of the conductor and the singers towards the music they are performing, with their relationship to the sacred text, and with their emotional and spiritual connection to the task at hand—the singing of praises to God within the context of a sublimely elevated work of art. When all of these are combined with a high degree of musical excellence, the result can rightfully be identified as “perfection.” The Choir of St. Nicholas Church in Tolmachi, under the direction of Alexei Puzakov, has recorded the complete sacred works of Sergei Rachmaninoff, on a total of 3 CDs. These recordings are truly outstanding, because they represent a genuine renaissance of the churchly choral art in Russia, which had been so painfully repressed and disrupted during the Communist era. Everything about these recordings is “in place”: the sense of tempo, pacing, subtlety of nuance and dynamic shading, phrasing and articulation, all of which are so essential to a proper interpretation of Rachmaninoff’s meticulously marked choral scores. The sound of the choir is rich, yet appropriately clear and transparent, without the excessive and sometimes overpowering heaviness characteristic of many Russian choirs. Equally important is the sense of “sacredness” these recordings convey—sobriety, restraint of passion, reverence; for whether these works are actually intended to be performed in church or not, they flow out of and aesthetically embody the Russian Orthodox liturgy. Even if you own other fine recordings of these works, your collection of Russian sacred choral music will never be complete without these discs!--V. M.