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Medieval mysticism meets Romanticism

This hour, the incomparable tradition of Russian choral music, conveyed by the Symphonic Chorus of the Yekaterinburg Philharmonic.

Listen to audio 54:59

Russian choral music, part one

The Ural Mountains and Siberia have no shortage of wonderful voices. The tradition of choral singing there probably has a lot to do with how those people have spent the long winter nights down through the ages. Founded in 2008, the choir we'll hear is relatively new, but it draws on that rich tradition. It's the kind of music that touches one personally and immediately.

The Yekaterinburg Chorus's conductor since 2015, Andrei Petrenko, described his ideal sound in an interview with DW: "Part of the Russian vocal tradition is for the sound to be powerful. At the same time, it's also very emotional, but not superficial or primitive. Our sound is profound, as it comes from the soul. I prefer a big sound, homogeneous but very clear." 

When individual singers step forward from that homogeneous sound and sing solo, they sound like opera singers yet are perfectly integrated into the choral sound texture - as we'll hear when a bass voice sounds out in "Blessed is the Man" by Pavel Chesnokov. 

The concert begins, however, with the solemn and profound Six Songs from "The Great Evening and Morning Praise" from the "Nighttime Vigil," op. 37 by Sergei Rachmaninov, who visited monasteries and attended church services partly for religious, but mainly for aesthetic reasons. To Rachmaninov, the singing of the monks embodied the Russian spirit.

Georgy Sviridov is known in Russia as a composer of cheerful film music; some of his melodies were popular in the former Soviet Union. A student of Dmitry Shostakovich, Sviridov lived from 1915 until 1998. In his piece called "The Bells of Twilight," a soprano sings offstage, intoning a single high note over and over again, like a bright sounding bell. Added to the sound texture are the choral voices and a sonorous bass. 

Sergei Rachmaninov (imago/Itar-Tass)

Sergei Rachmaninov

Sergei Rachmaninoff
Excerpts from "The Great Evening and Morning Praise" from the Nighttime Vigil, op. 37 
-  No. 1: Come, Let Us Pray    

- No. 2: Praise the Lord, My Soul 

- No. 3: Blessed is the Man 

- No. 6: Rejoice, Virgin

- No. 10: Because We Have Seen Christ's Resurrection

- No. 12: Glory to God in the Highest

Alexander Arkhangelsky
Choral concerto "I Think of the Day of Wrath" 

Pavel Chesnokov
Blessed is the Man, from the Nighttime Vigil, op. 44, No. 2  

Modest Mussorgsky
The Angel Cried Out 
Georgy Sviridov

- The Bells of Twilight from the choral concerto "The Pushkin Wreath" 

- Holy Love from the three chorals to Tolstoy's tragedy "Czar Fedor Ivanovich" 

Pavel Chesnokov
God is With Us, op. 40, No. 6  

performed by the:
Symphonic Chorus of the Yekaterinburg Philharmonic
Andrei Petrenko, conductor

Recorded by Deutsche Welle, Bonn (DW) in the City Hall, Troisdorf on September 18, 2016 

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