Review: Cappella Romana: Rakhmaninov Vigil

Review: Cappella Romana: Rachmaninov All Night Vigil. 

Of the times I have heard Cappella Romana do the Vigil, this was clearly the best balanced. The extra bass personnel made for a very enjoyable concert experience. Benedict Sheehan did a masterful job of piloting the choir through not just the Rachmaninov, but also several other pieces that provided a  context that gave the audience a taste of what was covered in a typical vigil. The intonation was wonderful. On Nynye Otpushchayesi the tenor solo was good if a bit nervous. The descending bass line at the end was helped by the services of Glenn Miller, the basso profundo who has become well associated with this work throughout the USA through his participation with many choirs. There was even a nice F1 at the end of Bogoroditse Dyevo. 

There was a tendency to not accent the strong syllable through much of the concert. This became most problematic with the singing of the small glorification (6 Psalms). If the choir accented SLA of “Slava” as much as Rachmaninov wrote for them to, it was lost in the acoustics of St. James Cathedral. The Bell effect that Rachmaninov composed was mostly limited to the sound of the various voices together creating the proper tones and overtones. 

On the Velichaniye (Magnificat) the sound of the men was very satisfyingly solid. The women had balance issues with the altos and 2nd sopranos overpowering the 1st sopranos. 

The Cappella Romana added many of the parts that would change from service to service to round out the concert and give a sense of context. They performed these hymns quite well.

It was overall a glorious concert with the voices accomplishing a feat of stamina and not sounding tired at the end. 

As an encore the Choir proformed Chesnokov’s Nye Otverzhi Menye with Glenn Miller singing the solo that he first premiered with the Illumni Men’s Chorale, singing the original ending the Chesnokov wrote.   Later, he won a Grammy with Conspirare with this piece. We were spoiled richly. 

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Rakhmaninov Divine Liturgy

Dear Readers, Choral directors and Choir members,

I am posting this link for a couple of reasons. Of all recordings of the Rakhmaninov Divine Liturgy, this one has the best tempos that make sense in context of the Divine Service for which the music is set. Notice that the tempo of many pieces are a bit faster than one usually hears when an english speaking choir attempts this work. Notice also how the choir lets the strong accents of the words come through. Rakhmaninov did not have to write the accents in; they are in the text.

The conductor is Olga Stupneva
The ensemble is “Rozhdyestvo”

 

Review of The Sacred Spirit of Russia CD

Review of The Sacred Spirit of Russia CD, performed by Conspirare, conducted by Craig Hella Johnson

The organization of of the CD is marvelous, following the outline of the Divine Liturgy. The Troparion and Kontakion and festal Trisagion and Magnification are of Christmas. There is an extended “Concert” section (the special music that the choir sings during the communion of the major clergy) including a couple of Lenten selections “Nynye Sily” (Now the Powers of Heaven) and “Nye Otvyerzhi” (Do not abandon me)

The tempos on “Let our mouths be filled” by Rachmaninov and Kedrov’s “Our Father” were a bit on the slow side; both of these works need a more energetic tempo.

The pieces that stand out from the rest are the Ippolitov-Ivanov Bless the Lord O my soul, the Chesnokov Cherubic Hymn, the Kastalsky Mercy of Peace.

Nye Otvyerzhi was magnificent with Glenn Miller singing the solo. Chesnokov wrote this piece for a very good and low Octavist. He later rewrote the ending for those who can’t hit a low G1. The revised ending is what most basses (even Russian basses) sing today. Glenn has the ability to sing the original ending, being likely the first Octavist to perform the original ending in concerts in the USA, premiering it almost two years ago with the Illumni Men’s Chorale.

The tenor who did the cantillation seems to know how the individual words are pronounced but did not know how they work in a sentence. The Sopranos’ vibrato did not match the rest of the ensemble. This gave the feeling sometimes that they were not quite a part of the rest of the group. Intonation was excellent. On the whole, there could have been more attention paid to the consonants. The men and altos did wonderfully.

This is well worth the price of the CD just to get Glenn Miller singing Nye Otvyerzhi with the original ending. And as a bonus you get a very competent choir singing wonderful music.

On February 8, 2015 this album won a grammy

The CD is available through Musica Russica.

http://www.musicarussica.com/search/results?fulltext=Spirit+of+Russia

Review of Capella Romana – Divine Liturgy of Rachmaninov

Review Capella Romana performance of Rakhmaninov Divine Liturgy

Saturday Jan 12 2013 at Holy Rosary Catholic Church in West Seattle

 

The Church is very soprano friendly and the Sopranos over sang the hall on “Priiditye Poklonimsya (Come let us worship)”.

The announced roster of singers was light one bass and one basso profundo according to Pavel Chesnokov’s “The Choir and how to direct it” (page 13. the administrator of Capella Romana was informed of this lightness in casting the bass part back last year when they did the All-Night-Vigil). In spite of being additionally down 3 members due to the flu that is going around afflicting us all, the Chamber Choir more than filled the venue with the sound of their voices.

The tempi that Alexander Lingas chose showed a sensitivity to how the pieces functioned inside the Liturgy. What was remarkable in the year since the Capella Romano brought us the All-Night Vigil, as they sang the Divine Liturgy attention was given to the accented parts of the words. This made it sound much more authentic as if they were all native to singing Slavonic.

The long crescendi in places such as Priiditye Poklonimsya (going from pp to ff over 6 measures), “Otche Nash (Lord’s Prayer),” were very well executed. The Capella Romana did the split choir versions of “Vo Tsarstviye Tvoye (Beatitudes).”

The Troparion of Theophany needed more work on the pronunciation of the text. But to be fair, this is a tongue twister even for native Russian speakers.

The pitch was good for the first half suffering only in the Augmented Litany.

Coming back from intermission, the choir was beginning to sound fatigued. The pitch sagged on the Symbol of Faith leaving the low Bassos a very difficult final note. It was written as a low Bb, but by the time it came to be sung it was well below that.

The magic moment was “Yedin Svyat’ (One is Holy)” as the Chalice and Diskos are elevated. If there is a time to have a magic moment, that is most assuredly the time to have it.

Except for a few mispronunciations of the Deacon and Priest’s part (Priest’s parts were sung by Dr. Lingas due to sickness of John Boyer, and he had little time to prepare), this performance was the best I’ve heard from a non-Russian Choir. I do hope the Capella Romana plans to record it once they are all healthy.

Esoterics sing Schnittke – Chiaroscura

Review of Esoterics singing Alfred Schnittke’s Concerto for Chorus, Sunday February 20 2011 at Holy Rosary Catholic Church in West Seattle as part of their Chiaroscura program

The intonation was wonderful. The Russian was, with only a couple exceptions, clearly and cleanly enunciated. The choir sang it very well and movingly. A word needs to be said about the venue and how the choir handled it. Holy Rosary Church is very treble friendly. It would have been wondrous if the soprano’s could have subdued their sound a trifle. Their overtones often served to obscure the sound of the rest of the choir in this Church. I don’t know how they could accomplish this, however on notes that often spent a lot of time above a high C. My other comment about dynamics and this hall is that they tended to hit fortisISsimo rather often. It would have been wonderful if the composer, conductor and acoustics could have conspired to allow this to happen once or twice a movement. But as already noted singing that high that often (and after having sung high many times in the first half) is very difficult vocally.

After singing the first 3 poems ably, the Esoterics then took the fourth poem to greater heights of sensitivity to the vocal lines and text. I was very impressed. Bravo Esoterics; you did both yourselves and the composer’s work proud.

<standing ovation smilie>

Steve Ericson’s Tips for Singing (Part V – Surviving a Concert)

previously at ChoirSinger.com – Surviving the Long Concert

Republished with Permission

 

One of the best Basses I've ever had the privilege to sing with and a good friend.

One of the best Basses I’ve ever had the privilege to sing with and a good friend.

Most choir directors know better, but every once in a while they go a little crazy and put together a program that has the choir members singing at the extremes of their vocal capacity, both in terms of range and dynamics.

As a singer, how do you cope with the fatigue? What can you do to have enough voice to finish the concert? Today I hope to answer these questions, at least enough so you stand a fighting chance.

First things first: You know how long this concert is going to be because you have been rehearsing the music for several weeks. Sometime early in the process you found yourself going home with a tired voice, and you realized this was going to be one of those concerts. Time to start getting in shape to handle the load.

The sooner you start preparing, the more likely it is you’ll survive the experience, so once you’ve had that revelation don’t wait to start gearing up to handle it. Begin by spending more time practicing the music on your own, paying attention to dynamics and phrasing. Remember, dynamics are relative, so if you can sing the soft passages very softly you won’t have to sing the loud ones quite as loudly to compensate. Of course, if the performance involves something like Verdi’s Requiem or Orff’s Carmina Burana you have a rather large orchestra to contend with, but the principal still applies.

Proper support for your tone is vital in this situation, so whatever you need to do to get those neglected abdominal muscles in to better shape is strongly advised. If the abs are soft you’ll use your neck and throat muscles to compensate, and you’ll run out of juice around intermission.

Pay attention to posture, too. If your back gets tired from holding your rib cage high you need to work on it. Build up the stamina so you can make it to the end. If you use music on stage and hold it in a folder, then start practicing with the music in the folders at least four weeks before the performance. You’ll want your shoulder muscles to get used to the weight.

Beyond the physical conditioning you need, don’t forget to exercise your voice so it’s in the best shape possible. Practice the music using the dynamic markings as soon as possible, so the whole package is in your muscle memory, not just the notes. Practice the passages with sudden or frequent dynamic changes on your own so they don’t come as a surprize at show time. Few things are more embarrassing than being the only one still singing fortissimo when everyone else has observered a subito piano.

Make sure you start getting plenty of water at least two weeks before performance time. The vocal mechanism needs to stay moist, and if you’re underhydrated you’ll end up fighting a dry, scratchy throat. Proper rest is important, too. We all have a life to live, but the social part of it won’t suffer too badly if you spend a couple of weeks going to bed early.

Finally, on the day of the performance pace yourself. Don’t let the excitement of the moment steal away your preparation and cause you to over sing. Save some of it for the end of the concert. You want the finale to be grand, don’t you?

 

ChoirSinger.com – Keep your voice healthy

All too often singers develop problems with their voices which could have been prevented by a little knowledge applied at the right time.

Today I’m going to try to provide a few simple guidelines that I hope will help spare some of you the frustration of having your voice go out on you at a bad time.

One of the most important things you can do for your voice is to stay healthy. I know, not all illnesses can be avoided, but if you are serious about keeping your voice in shape you should make an extra effort to stay healthy. Ear muffs in colder climates can help prevent numerous ear and throat infections by keeping the inner ear passages warm. Washing your hands before touching your face or after contact with people who have the sniffles can help you avoid many forms of the common cold. Getting plenty of rest can help your body’s immune system resist the ‘bug’ that’s going around. A healthy diet will also help.

Beyond such obvious steps to maintaining your health, there are a few things you can do specifically to keep your voice at its best.

Drink plenty of water. It not only is good for you, it helps keep the vocal mechanism lubricated.

Moderate your alcohol intake, especially for a few days prior to any planned performances. Alcohol dries out your throat and can cause unnecessary strain on the vocal cords.

If you smoke, quit. The husky lounge singer sound belongs in a smoke-filled bar, not in the choir. You know all the health reasons to stop, so I’ll just add that it’s possibly the worst thing you can do to your voice.

Reduce your use of dairy products. They increase mucous production and aare generally not good for your voice. If you don’t believe they affect your voice, take this challenge: cut out ALL dairy products for a month, preferably the month before a scheduled performance. After the performance, resume your normal dairy intake and see what it does to your voice (and the rest of you).

Get plenty of exercise, too. However, avoid doing much exercise that involves heavy lifting. Many voice coaches teach that this type of activity can put excessive strain on the neck and throat, affecting the vocal mechanism.

Another thing: be aware of how tired your voice is. If you are tired, your voice is probably tired, and you shouldn’t strain it by trying to sing too loud. Once you have had a chance to rest, and to rest your voice, then you can use it with strength.

Here’s to healthy singing!

 

ChoirSinger.com – Glossary of vocal physiology

The following is a brief glossary of the parts of the body involved in vocal production. It is not a comprehensive list, but does explain somewhat how the parts fit together to produce a good vocal sound.

Abdomen – area below the ribs containing the digestive organs.

Cartilages – The framework of the larynx. The largest cartilage is the Thyroid Cartilage, whose bulge creates the Adam’s Apple. The Circoid Cartilage is a structural part of the larynx, and is attached to the trachea. The Arytenoids Cartilages are responsible for adjusting tension and the amount of separation of the vocal cords. The vocal cords are attached to the Arytenoids Cartilages at the back and to the Thyroid Cartilage at the front.

Clavicle – collarbone.

Clavicular Breathing – breathing from the top of the chest.

Costal – pertaining to the ribs.

Costal Breathing – breathing with the ribs, above the diaphragm.

Diaphragm – flexible partition of miscles and tendons separating the chest and abdominal cavities.

Diaphragmatic Breathing – breathing by relaxing the abdomen, forcing the diaphragm to drop and the lungs to expand.

Epiglottis – cartilage at the root of the tongue which covers the vocal cords during swallowing, protecting them.

Glottis – space between the vocal cords.

Hyoid Bone – the bone at the base of the tongue. Both the tongue and the larynx are attached to the Hyoid Bone.

Larynx – voice box. The cavity holding the vocal cords.

Palate – roof of the mouth. The front is called the hard palate. The back is called the soft palate.

Pharynx – throat. The cavity connecting the nose, mouth, and larynx.

Sinuses – small cavities in the skull behind the eyes and nose. this is where most vocal resonance occurs.

Sternum – breastbone. The front of the upper ribs are attached to the sternum.

Thorax – upper part of the body between the neck and the abdomen. Separated from the abdomen by the diaphragm.

Trachea – windpipe. The air passage leading into the larynx from below.

Uvula – fleshy hanging projection at the back of the soft palate.

Steve Ericson’s Tips for singers (Part II Extending the Range

Steve Ericson’s Tips for Singing (Part II – Extending the Range)

previously at ChoirSinger.com – Extending the range – higher

Republished with permission

One of the best Basses I've ever had the privilege to sing with and a good friend.

One of the best Basses I’ve ever had the privilege to sing with and a good friend.

One of the biggest challenges facing most singers is the high end of the voice: those notes which are at or slightly above the range where singing is comfortable. Often that part of the voice sounds strained, or if abused too often becomes permanently strident.

This is not good.

As a young bass, my voice coaches often despaired of my ever being able to sing above the staff – anything above a B-flat for me was a real struggle. Looking back on it now, I can see what I was doing wrong (and where they missed some chances to help).

I’ll stick with my side of things. For too long I tried to muscle my voice up to the high notes. What I really needed to do was back off the pressure and tension I was putting on my throat and free up the vocal mechanism. More importantly, I had to learn to place the voice up into the big resonating chamber of the head. (Note: placing the voice in the head is a conceptual process, not a physical one. More on the mechanics shortly.)

If you are having trouble with the top of your range, try using a more gentle approach to singing. Relax the neck and shoulders. Lift the ribs and take a comfortable breath. Open your mouth tall, not wide, and imagine your voice floating above your head. Then gently sing a note that you know is higher than you are normally comfortable with. Don’t worry about the exact pitch, the idea here is to see how effortless it can be, and notes can get in the way at this point.

If you can grasp this idea, listen to the quality of the note you just sang. It may sound nothing like your regular singing voice at this point. That’s OK. There will be time to develop that sound later. It is important not to rush this process, as you can hurt yourself trying to do too much too soon.

When you achieve this free-floating high, light sound (not falsetto) you should feel a “buzz” up in your nose, behind the eyes, and along the brow ridge. That is because your sinuses carry most of the resonance in that range. With the relaxed neck and open mouth you are actually lifting the soft palate and giving your voice more room.

Once you have discovered the buzz you should work on bringing it down into the middle part of your voice as well. A real benefit of discovering and exercising this part of your voice range is the fact that it adds depth to the rest of your voice by opening up the overtones of your voice and giving it a vibrant resonance. With consistent practice you should find yourself singing notes you had previously given up on with relative ease.

formerly at ChoirSinger.com – Extending the Range – lower

I am often asked how I sing so low. (I am a bass.) The short answer is that I just open my mouth and sing the notes.

Of course, there is a bit more to it than that. A naturally low voice helps, but my normal range is not that much lower than most good basses. I sing a comfortable D below the bass clef most days, but there are a few choral pieces which demand lower notes. Rachmaninoff’s All Night Vigil (Vespers) has B-flats and Cs in most of the movements, for example, and a handful of the basses in our choir were able to work down to that range for performances a couple of years ago.

So, how did we do it?

The first thing we had to do was get over the idea that those notes are going to sound pretty. Much of the “pretty” sound of a sung note is its resonance, and unless you have an unusually shaped head (and a large one) the chances are you won’t have the resonance needed to make those notes sound as nice as something in the middle of your range.

With that in mind, we can approach the extremely low notes with a new freedom. Now, just because they aren’t pretty doesn’t mean you don’t have to sing the notes in tune, but we’ll see how that’s done, too.

A common term for the very low notes in the male voice is fry-tones. That’s because they sound like bacon frying on a hot skillet – a controlled series of pops from the vocal cords. To achieve that sound you need to place the voice very far forward – go for a bright AH sound – and completely relax the jaw, tongue, and throat.

A good exercise for placing the voice is to do some downward glissandos. Start on a comfortable note, say a D in the middle of the clef, and slide down a fifth to the G on the bottom line. You want to start the top note on a bright EEE sound and end it on the AH sound, still bright and forward. Then go back and do it again, this time starting on the C-sharp and ending on F-sharp. Repeat this pattern until you can’t go any lower, then do one more.

The more you practice this exercise, the stronger your lower notes will become. And, as you practice this, listen carefully to the sound you are making. Work on tuning it with the piano so you learn to hear the intonation in that range. One word of caution, though. Don’t push it. Don’t expect your range to increase dramatically in just one or two sessions. This takes some time, usually a period of several weeks to achieve noticeable changes in your range.

Now here’s one of the great things about this. If you can sing the note in tune with the rest of the choir they will supply the resonance and make it sound like a beautiful low pipe on an organ.

This technique can be applied to all the voices, though the effectiveness is not as great with the other voice parts as it is for the low basses. Still, next time your choir director asks you to sing something really low you can just open your mouth and sing it.