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October 17, 2012

Beloved Russian Sounds, A Cappella and Stirring

New York Times:

To anyone not in the know, the prospect might have seemed stern if not altogether forbidding: a full evening of a cappella singing by the Moscow Sretensky Monastery Choir. Clearly most of those in the large, and largely Russian-speaking, audience at Carnegie Hall on Monday evening knew better.

Only about a third of the program — not nearly enough for my taste — was devoted to music of the Russian Orthodox Church. The next third, straddling the intermission, offered Russian folk songs. And finally came a set of composed songs that have penetrated deep into the culture, to judge from the many listeners singing or clapping along, even when not encouraged to do so by the director, Nikon Zhila.

At least one major work based in Russian Orthodoxy, though written for concert purposes, has almost become part of the standard choral repertory in the West: Rachmaninoff’s Vespers, or All-Night Vigil. And the choir gave a lovely, restrained account of one number from that service, “Rejoice, O Virgin”: all subtlety and understatement of a sort the casual listener might not associate with Rachmaninoff.

There were also several works by Alexander Gretchaninov — more adventurous harmonically and delivered powerfully, almost aggressively at times — along with Pavel Chesnokov’s drone-generated “God Is With Us.”

The performances were everywhere wonderful, though with surprisingly little reveling in the subterranean bass notes that all Russian choirs cultivate. “The Horse,” by Igor Matvienko, came closest. Read more.

Posted by acapnews at October 17, 2012 12:00 AM