Russian Patriarchate Choir

17th Century Anon
Opening Vespers Psalm (Psalm 103/104)
Blessed be the Man (Psalm 1)
Verse for Sunday Communion
Hymn to the Mother of God
Evangelical Stichiron
Hymn to the Cherubim
18th Century Anon
Verse for Wednesday Communion
19th Century Anon
Opening Vespers Psalm (Psalm 103/104)
Blessed be the Man (Psalm 1)
Three Stichira
Prayer to the Mother of God
Prayer to the Mother of God
Great Prokimenon
Prayer to the Mother of God
Te Deum
Hymn to the Cherubim

Russian Patriarchate Choir
Anatoly Grindenko

Reviewed by: William Yeoman

Reviewed: 14 May, 2005
Venue: St John's, Smith Square, London

Founded in 1983 by its director Anatoly Grindenko, the Russian Patriarchate Choir of Moscow performs the music of the Russian Orthodox Church, both in a liturgical context and in concerts throughout the world. This was one such performance, and focused on Orthodox music following the reforms of the 17th-century, when the traditional chants were opened up to the world of harmony and polyphony via the Roman Catholic-influenced Ukrainian manner of part-singing.

The first half of the concert mostly comprised music of the 17th-century, during which time the older syllabic chant-style with its florid melismas, responsorial patterns and declamatory character was still very much in evidence. The opening Vespers Psalm immediately brought to mind the Italian falsobordone style of harmonising chants with simple though highly decorated progressions; other pieces ranged from the sweet Roman polyphonic style of the Marian hymn to the powerful homophony of the Evangelical Stichiron. The two 19th-century pieces that preceded the interval featured a more overtly cantorial style, greater rhythmical diminution and a harmonic richness anticpating Rachmaninov’s Vespers.

The second half was largely devoted to the music of Venetian-trained Dmitry Bortnyansky (1751-1825). While not exactly a household name, Bortnyansky at least stands a fair chance of being familiar: many recordings of his sacred vocal works are now available, including a fine series on the Chandos label. Bortnyansky’s Italianate, Classical style, which earned the opprobrium of, among others, Glinka, is tempered by the retention of traditional chant melodies and a tendency towards simplicity, particularly in the hymns. This is evident in the beautiful Kondakion with its baritone soloist. At the other end of the spectrum is the brightly virtuosic Te Deum, which ended the programmed part of this concert. Between Bortnyansky’s works were placed contrasting pieces like the Anonymous Three Stichira, full of tonal richness and atmospheric harmonies, and Yeromonach Viktor’s serene, serpentine Hymn to the Cherubim.

There were three encores: a Folk Song, a Lullaby and a Cossack Song, all sung in the earthy, passionate style that characterised the entire concert’s performances, and made such a refreshing change from the studied, often effete manner of singing one usually hears in programmes of sacred vocal music.

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