Mostly Mozart in New York – Russian Patriarchate Choir

Call to Worship
Introductory Psalm at Vespers
The First Kathisma
Sticheron from the Aposticha of Great and Holy Friday at Vespers
Troparion of Pascha [Easter]
Sticheron for the Nativity of Christ
Three Stichera from Optina Pustin’ monastery
Blessed Is the Man
Te Deum laudamus
Sacred Concerto: Kontakion for the Dormition of the Mother of God
The Angel Cried Out
Revealing to You the Pre-eternal Counsel
When Shall We Call You, O Full of Grace
O Joy of All Those Who Sorrow
The Great Litany
Evening Bells
Birch Candle
Down Along the Mother-Volga River
Snow, It’s Time for You to Melt

Russian Patriarchate Choir
Anatoly Grindenko

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 25 August, 2005
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, New York City

Founded by Anatoly Grindenko in Trotse-Sergieva Lavra (near Moscow) in 1983, the Russian Patriarchate Choir consists of 12 male singers, plus Grindenko. The choir’s main area of activity is the repertoire of the Russian Orthodox liturgy, and its small size is representative of the scale of ensemble traditionally used by churches in Russia. In addition to performing in Russia (as an actual choir) and internationally, the singers are scholars of the repertoire for male voices and played a leading role in the rediscovery of Russian Orthodox church-music in the final years of the Soviet Union.

This concert consisted entirely of Russian a cappella vocal music – a wide variety of liturgical pieces followed by a much smaller selection of folk songs. The liturgical music was drawn in part from the vast repertoire of anonymous chant-based works that arose during the Russian musical ‘Renaissance’ under Ivan the Terrible and his successors, and in part from compositions by latter-day composers, from Bortniansky to Rachmaninov. The early works were presented in their original, male-chorus voicing, and the composed works were all arranged from their original mixed-chorus versions.

The first half of the program, largely devoted to liturgical chants, harmonizations, and polyphonic works from the 16th and 17th centuries, culminated in a 19th-century setting of the “Te Deum” by Dmitri Bortniansky (1751-1825). Strongly influenced by Italian operatic style, the piece is barely recognizable as Russian Orthodox music. Aside from a brief and relatively obscure piece by Rachmaninov, a sacred concerto, the liturgical pieces in the second half of the concert were by composers known mainly for their works in the sacred sphere: Pavel Chesnokov, Mikhail Popov-Platonov and Alexandre Gretchaninov. Four Russian folksongs completed the program.

The singing of the Russian Patriarchate Choir was brilliant throughout the concert. The singers were every bit as technically remarkable as one would expect, but the most impressive things were the expressiveness of the singing, and the forceful and dynamic contrasts displayed in the individual performances. The singing ranged freely between whispered pianissimos and shouted fortissimos. The singers gave the impression of having the music genuinely in their blood, and they sang it with an obvious and extraordinary commitment. As the evening went on, the response of the full house grew from warm to clamorous. The audience was rewarded with an additional two Russian folksongs – “Rain in the Street” and a Cossack song – as vividly sung encores.

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