Music of Russia CD

Music of Russia CD – Illumni Men’s Chorale

Some 5.75 years ago Chris McCafferty and I began trading comments back and forth on mondo deep bass parts in Choral music. We listened to the many examples on Youtube and said, “What if?”

That winter the Concert hall Lagerquist was available the week before Christmas with no Christmas Concert scheduled. A few hundred phone calls by Chris later, the Illumni Men’s Chorale was born. One of the pieces we sang was from the Standard Russian Choral repertoire (It’s on this CD), Chesnokov’s “Spaseniye” This made the conversation switch from “What if?” to “What would it take?”

Thousands of hours of research, arranging, composing, transliterating, making contacts, networking, raising support and 2 years later the Illumni dared to present a concert of Russian Music, some pieces in their original key with their original ending for the first time in concert on the west coast of the USA (this claim can probably be expanded upon, but that research of earlier concerts has not been completed). A section of Bassi Profundi, some of whom could be Octavists, was developed, and the Basso Profundo Glenn Miller was engaged. After many hours of learning music that was mostly in a language that few of the men of the Illumni had spoken or sung in, the Concert was put on.

To give you a sense of what this took physically from the singers, the week after the concert, most of them complained to me that the muscles they use to support their breathing were sore.

After two years of trying to find someone to Master the CD, we finally came upon Seraphim Hanisch of Little Spot Productions, who had recorded the PaTRAM Institute with Vladimir Gorbik, (one of the top Russian Sacred Music Conductors). Seraphim Hanisch did a masterful job of mastering.

Here is the CD. You can follow the link to order your own copy as well as hear a couple of short preview tracks.

I will not provide a review of this; it would be a conflict of interest since so much of my own work has gone into this.

Thank you Chris, for being the glue that brought all this together. Thank you Sean Haley and Scott Kovacs for conducting most of the concert. Thank you Glenn Miller for coming in and putting us over the top, especially with your solo. And thank you to the men of the Illumni Men’s Chorale for all the hard work you did to put this concert together.

Link to order the CD: http://musicofrussia.com/

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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 Recordings of the Rachmaninov All-Night-Vigil

 

A Review of Recordings  of the Rakhmaninov All-Night-Vigil.

 

The oldest available recording of the All-Night-Vigil is by the State Russian Academic Choir conducted by Alexander Sveshnikov. It was first recorded in 1965 by Melodiya, but not widely available. In 1973 they re-recorded this for the centennial of Rakhmaniov’s birth. Because of anti-religious ideology, it was mainly exported outside the former Soviet Union. Recently the 1965 recording was remastered and has been re-released.

Sveshnikov was a student of Chesnokov who was last conductor of the Moscow Synod Choir that premiered the All Night Vigil. Both Rakhmaninov and Chesnokov were students of Stepen Smolensky (Rakhmaninov dedicated the All-Night Vigil to Stepan Smolensky).

This makes Sveshnikov the musical “grandson” of Nikolai Danilin, who premiered the work.

The Svesnikov recordings feature lush bass and octavist that make the recordings very satisfying. When they go flat, they go flat together. A valid criticism of the recordings is that when syllables have a strong accent due to the text that both soloists and choir will scoop the pitch. While some may think this to be idiomatic, there is no reason why such strong accents could not be accomplished without bending the pitch. Additionally the Choir sounds vocally fatigued for the last 3 pieces, and the octavist that goes down to a low G1 at the end #14 sounds creaky, crickety and fried.

The tempos in the 1965 reading are a bit quicker; the transparency of the vocal parts is clearer. The quality of the recording engineering and the subtleties of shaping and the blend are better in the 1973 recording.

The attention to detail, the attention to intonation and overtones to the point where, at points, it sounds as if instruments were accompanying them playing notes that no one is actually singing, and that it is produced by a musical grandson of the original make these must listen to.

 

In 1986 the USSR Minster of Culture Chamber Choir under the direction of Valeri Polyansky recorded the All-Night-Vigil in Dormition Cathedral (also a Melodiya recording). The recording is every bit as respectable as the Svesnikov recording. For the most part they avoid the scooping that afflicts the Sveshnikov recordings. The tempos are also a bit livelier. For a chamber choir it is a good rendering. The intonation is, on the whole, good. A notable exception is at the beginning of #9 Blagosloven yesi Gospodi (Blessed art Thou O Lord/ Evlogitarion/ Angelski Sobor) when the altos come in on the Bb, they take a good second to find the pitch. While the recording is good, one misses the sound of a full choir.

Mstislav Rostropovich recorded the All-Night-Vigil with the Choral Arts Society of Washington in 1987 on the Erato label. The tempi are bold and energetic, making for a spirited performance. The recording suffers a light bass section.

Robert Shaw recorded the Vigil with the Robert Shaw Festival Singers in 1989 for Telarc. The intonation is beyond immaculate, the blend is wonderful. The recording has a feeling of “something missing”. What is missing is that the normal accents that are part of the Slavonic Text, that would not need to be notated as accented, are entirely missing. It is as if a very good french choir were singing that did not understand where the strong accents were required.

Recently (2010) the combined Church Choirs of Saratov recorded the Vigil, conducted by Svetlana Khakhalina. The recording was produced by the Eparchy of Saratov. The recording was done at Intercession Church in Saratov in Russia. This is a good recording of the Vigil. The balance between parts is very good and it has a transparency that is missing in the Sveshnikov recordings. It does have one draw-back. There is one Bass II (not an octavist) who is frequently off pitch just enough to draw attention to his voice.