After three stellar performances of the beautiful and gripping Michael Haydn Requiem with the Boulder Chamber Orchestra under Bahman Saless, St. Martin’s Chamber Choir now turns it sights on St. Petersburg with Music of the Tsars, an all-Russian a cappella concert of Russian Orthodox music. Here’s part of the article Maestro Krueger wrote for the SMCC newsletter, The Voice: (Let us know if you would like to join the SMCC e-mail list to receive these automatically: E-mail or 303-298-1970)
The choral music of the Russian Orthodox Church is of relatively recent vintage, and, although it at first drew heavily from choral music of Western Christianity (through the influence of westward-looking Tsars like Peter the Great and Catherine, and their “importation” of western musicians), it developed its own peculiar sound during the 19th century – that of solid tonality, parallel-motion harmonies, deep bass lines and a stately, mystical pace. Though Rachmaninoff’s Vespers is the most frequently performed of this repertoire, that was actually written after the Russian Revolution, when there were no more Tsars, and for a church that had been disbanded by Communist authorities and had largely gone into hiding.
I am focusing, on the other hand, on music actually written for the Imperial Court at St. Petersburg from the 18th century to the early 1900’s – music by Bortniansky, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Gretchaninov, Tanayev and, a personal favorite of mine, the virtually unknown Victor Kalinnikov, whom I consider the musical equal of, if not superior to, Rachmaninoff in this genre. I do include one work by Rachmaninoff (the only sacred work he wrote that is not a part of one of the larger liturgies), as well as one living composer, Roman Hurko.
And here’s a complete list of the works/composers:
- Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) – Hvalite Ghospoda
- Dmitri Bortnianksky (1751-1825) – Heruvimskaya pesn (No. 7)
- Sergei Tanayev (1856-1915) – Molitva, Op. 27, No. 6
- César Cui (1835-1918) – Velichit dusha
- Nikolai Tolstiakov (1883-1958) – Blagoslovi
- Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) – V molitvah
- Roman Hurko (2005) – Bohoroditse Divo
- Peter Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) – Heruvimskaya pesn (No. 3)
- Alexandre Gretchaninoff (1864-1956) – Vnushi, Bozhe, Op. 26
- Nikolai Golovanov (1891-1953) – Otche nash
- Victor Kalinnikov (1870-1927) – Heruvimskaya pesn (No. 2)
- Victor Kalinnikov – Blagoslovi
- Victor Kalinnikov – Blazhen muzh
And now a list of the two concerts themselves:
- Friday, October 3, 7:30pm, Saint John’s Episcopal Cathedral, Denver
- Sunday, October 5, 3:00pm, St. Augustine’s Orthodox Church, Denver
The latter venue is much smaller than the former, seating only perhaps 250; and the last time we did a concert of this repertoire, in 2009, the concert at St. Augustine’s sold out completely, and a couple dozen people were actually turned away from the door. The tragedy was that the Friday night concert, at Saint John’s could have accommodated them; so I encourage you to get your tickets in advance, especially if you are planning to attend Sunday’s matinee. The popularity of St. Augustine is understandable – i.e., to hear this repertoire in an icon-decorated church, with the vague perfumed smell of Orthodox incense (sweeter than Western incense) – is truly to have an all-sensory experience. But the acoustics at Saint John’s are probably a little better (for this music, at least), and it is no less visually stunning. It will be an excellent experience at either venue!
See you there!