6 tracks. Total time - 39:17.
Once again “Electroshock Records” presents another genre-bending album that defies conventional categorization in the form of Roman Stolyar’s “Missa Apocryph”. To break the album down to its basic components - take a base of progressive rock, add modern classical chorale and season it liberally with liturgical Gregorian chant. Yet like many culinary recipes, the dish cannot be solely judged by the sum of its ingredients.
Although most listeners in the U.S. probably haven’t heard of the Russian (Siberian) composer Roman Stolyar, I’m sure he is much more known in Europe (and probably elsewhere) especially in Russia. Stolyar’s background is in modern (free) jazz piano and classical composition. He studied under Yuri Yukechev and has collaborated with such notables as Anatoly Vapirov, Carl Bergstrom-Nielsen, Hans Schattler, “Lot Lorien” (Bulgarian world-fusion band), among other projects such as jazz groups “Alter Ego”, and “New Generation and Shanti”, an eclectic music duo with Roman and his sister Yelena Silantieva on vocals. For all of his jazz and classical background, Roman looks and sounds like he could have been in one of any progressive rock bands of the 1970’s, although he would have been too young to be there at the time having been born in 1967. Then again, almost any progressive rock musician will have some jazz and classical background, some weighing more in one direction than the other. But the music on “Missa Apocryph” is more about the vocals than it is about the instrumental aspect, as the chorale work dominates in nearly every way.
“Missa Apocryph” is heavily reliant on the Sharomov Vocal Ensemble consisting of Yelena Zabvarfskaya and Olga Ossipova (sopranos); Ludmila Tyukhaeva (mezzo-soprano); Alexander Zverev (tenor) and Pavel Sharomov (bass) to realize the concept of bringing Gregorian liturgical music into the 21st century. Now this is not Gregorian chant, although the lyrics (as well as song titles) are derived from it. There six tracks “Kyrie”, “Gloria”, “Credo”, “Sanctus”, “Benedictus”, and “Agnus Dei” that span a little under forty minutes. The music begins with a little atmospheric (and amazingly played) solo alto recorder by Roman before the drums (yes, there are drums, programmed drums, but still drums) keyboard accents and allegro vocals kick in. The phrase “Kyrie eleison” is done in elaborate near-baroque rondos, but with expression that includes modern jazz as well as traditional classical. For reference, anyone familiar with some of the more elaborate vocal choral work by the prog-rock band “Gentle Giant” might have a clue as to what’s going on here, but the “GG” boys are rank amateurs in the chorale department compared with the Sharomov Vocal Ensemble. There is a tremendous amount of counterpoint and even operatic phrasing as the Sharamov folks belt it out. This is often enhanced with dramatic keyboard accents among the ostinatos. “Gloria” is a bit more moderate and grand, but still embellished with contrapuntal vocal accents. To some extent, Roman’s orchestration takes a back seat to the vocals but still moves it along enhancing the ambience. At times it could be as simple as a bass underpinning, and at others quite polyphonic, yet never overriding the vocals.
I am wondering if it was a conscious decision on Roman’s part to use obviously synthetic sounds for his instrumentation rather than pipe organ, piano and real strings. Even the drums don't sound quite real, although the programming is quite elaborate. Maybe thatýs the modern aspect he was striving for, but it tends to make it “prog-rocky” something purists might have a hard time with. Prog-rock aficionados should love it though. There are no instrumental solos or extended passages, only occasional brief interludes. “Credo” is perhaps the closest piece to modern classical vocal music with its very stylized phrasing, the longest piece on the album with little to no instrumental backing until the halfway point. This sounds like an incredibly difficult piece of music to perform. It's really quite amazing, and I have not much to compare it to, except maybe Brian Ferneyhough, although his stuff is a lot more difficult to listen to. Ferneyhough’s “Missa Brevis” comes close but is a good deal more avant-garde and disjunctive. Stolyar’s music has smoothness to its form that makes it much more palatable.
“Sanctus” and “Benedictus” have a lot of rhythmic impetus to them heightening the drama, and they could stand together as a prog-rock mini-opus. If Wakeman or Emerson were doing music like this, people might be buying their albums again! There is a lot more harmonic unison in the vocals on these pieces than the others, quite effective too. There is also some real piano on this track. “Agnus Dei” has a cinematic ambience through much of it being dreamlike and very moody. I could easily see it being adapted to a soundtrack.
To sum up, Stolyar’s “Missa Apocryph” is much more than the sum of its components - a rich pastiche of the ancient and modern, a work of depth and beauty. I would have preferred a real drummer and some elements like pipe organ and more piano, and maybe the instruments taking a bigger part in the music (perhaps an expanded edition?) but for what it is, it’s great. Something I’d love to see performed live. I doubt I’ll ever have the chance though.
Steve Mecca (“Chain D.L.K.”)
This is a modern version of the Latin Mass, the text taken from texts from the Apocrypha, an addendum to the traditional bible. The music is composed and performed by Roman Stolyar utilising a number of electronic keyboards, and the vocals are performed by the Sharamov Vocal Ensemble. There are six sections to the mass: “Kyrie”, “Gloria”, “Credo”, “Sanctus”, “Benedictus”, and “Agnus Dei”. There is a strong prog-rock element to the music, and I can envisage that fans of Rick Wakeman’s religious music should find an affinity to this as well. The music is quite propulsive, the intertwining vocals pushing the flow of the music this way and that. The overall sound at times is quite sparse, the five voices devoid of instrumentation and double tracking. While it may, initially, not sound too different to other latin-based religious music, it is quite radical, with its fast pace and the soaring and suddenly dropping vocals. For those looking for new religious experiences then you should check out “Missa Apocryph”, the liner notes include the full text in both Latin and English.
John M. Peters (“The Borderland”)
“Missa Apocryph” is Siberia based Russian composer and musician Roman Stolyar’s second album for the “Electroshock Records” label. This is an intriguing set, both musically and thematically. The focus is Christianity, specifically the apocryphal writings of the Bible, which I understand to be distinguished from the canonical writings as being unofficial vs. official. The music was written for the Sharamov Vocal Ensemble, a quartet of 3 female and one male vocalist who Stolyar partners with throughout the album.
“Kyrie” opens the set with an inspirational recorder melody, and when the keyboards kick in we’re in full prog rock mode. The vocal ensemble sings in a high energy church choral chanting style. The pace rises and falls in true prog fashion, though the magnificent vocals make for a very interesting prog-operatic combination. “Gloria” blends world music and symphonic prog with hints of jazz. The vocal style is more song-oriented though the impact equals the power of “Kyrie”. “Credo” starts off with the choir front and center for the first 4 minutes, but when the heavy swirling prog keyboards crank up they are darkly orchestral and highly intense and the collaborative nature of the music and choir is most apparent here. “Sanctus” and “Benedictus” are the shortest tracks of the set but the most purely rocking. It’s so cool and strange to hear the vocal ensemble doing these jam-like choir-chant vocals. And the rocking recorder solo in the middle of “Benedictus” is a nice touch. “Agnus Dei” wraps up the set and is somewhat in avant-prog territory, like “Universe Zero” with a real church choir. Stolyar is really on to something different here with his use of this vocal ensemble and their style of singing. I think he succeeds magnificently.
Spaceman33 (“Aural Innovations”)
Siberian composer Roman Stolyar has shaped a remarkable, daring electroacoustic opera. Daring because of its musical architecture as well as because it approaches the controversial topic of the apocryphal gospels of Christianity. Blending soloist vocals with operatic choirs with electronic accompaniments, rhythms typical of “pop”, some elements of “jazz”, backgrounds and cosmic passages, and providing the texts with equal doses of criticism and hope, Stolyar offers us a music between the beatific and the apocalyptic, the earthly and the unearthly. The best theme in the album is, in my opinion, “Agnus Dei”, the one closing the album. The cosmic, mysterious, majestic ambience achieved by the synthesizers is impressive, as well as the perfect fusion between them, the chants, the songs and the piano.
Vicente Gispert (“Amazing Sounds”)
This release in no way fits the standard mold of “Electroshock Records” music (though they’ve been breaking that mode a lot lately, so maybe we should stop remarking on it!), being essentially a prog-rock concept album rather than experimental electronic music. Not being Catholic, I can’t speak to the religious value of this music, though I suspect that the lyrical source (the Apocrypha) might rule it out from official approval. I can, however, speak to its musical qualities, and those are quite appealing. It follows the structure of a traditional mass (“Kyrie”, “Gloria”, “Credo”, “Sanctus”, “Benedictus” and “Agnus Dei”), and is arranged for keyboards, drums, and vocal ensemble. The vocal arrangements are the star of the show here, thoroughly in a Classical mode (with some more modern harmonies) and gloriously polyphonic, often intertwining and overlapping in lovely complex patterns. A few sections, especially in “Credo” are essentially unaccompanied vocals. Two other passages of note are the instrumental portion of “Benedictus”, which is the most overtly rocking part of the set; and the long building of “Agnus Dei”, with its eerie string synth and piano backing. The rather sterile digital tones of the keyboards and drums are at first a bit off-putting, but in time the quality of the composition, in addition to the strong vocals, outweighs that flaw. Still, I would love to hear this music recorded by a full band: Stolyar’s keyboard work is good, but the impact to be gained from having a more robust performance would likely be impressive.
Jon Davis (“Expose”)
Roman Stolyar was born on December 6, 1967 in Novosibirsk, Russia, in a family of engineers and received his first musical experiences at the state music school. As a piano improviser, Roman Stolyar has participated in many festivals and concerts of jazz, improvisation and contemporary music. This work is inspired by the apocryphal texts of 2nd-century Christianity, something that translates into a really unorthodox musical treatment of the mass, even though the form and texts are preserved. The writing is excellent! Stolyar’s vocal arrangements play marvelously, demonstrating a tension between tradition and modernism, with some gloriously dissonant harmonies.
(“DWM” Music Company)