7 June 2015 (Sunday) 8:00pm
Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall
Selections from All Night Vigil, Op. 37
The Sealed Angel
Megan Sterling, Principal Flute of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra
Jerome Hoberman, Music Director & Conductor
The Hong Kong Bach Choir
Although The Hong Kong Bach Choir has occasionally performed works by Russian composers, it has never devoted an entire program to Russian music. This program will serve to correct that omission.
Sergei Rachmaninoff is among the most popular composers of “classical music,” his works beloved for their intensely romantic melodies and rich harmonies. Some of his tunes have even been adapted for popular songs (“All by Myself,” “Never Gonna Fall in Love Again,” etc.). In Hong Kong he is best known for his piano music, especially two of his four concertos, but he also wrote outstanding symphonies and operas, as well as two major extended, unaccompanied choral works that reflect his deep Russian Orthodox piety: the Liturgy of St. John Chrisostom (1910) and the All-Night Vigil (also known as the Vespers), completed five years later.
Orthodox Christian practice forbids the use of instruments (other than bells) in church music, limiting its sound to that of the human voice. Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil finds its roots not only in traditional Russian sacred chant, but also in Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s pioneering, elaborate choral setting of the same service. The Hong Kong Bach Choir, which in January 2005 sang a single movement from this magnificent work in a program of Vespers selections, here offers a more extended selection, chosen for the beauty and variety of the individual pieces.
As with Rachmaninoff, the theme of Orthodox Christianity plays a prominent role in the music of Rodion Shchedrin, perhaps the most illustrious living Russian composer (the Carmen Ballet, Anna Karenina – also a ballet – the opera Dead Souls, and five Concertos for Orchestra, among many others). But while his choral masterpiece The Sealed Angel (1988) incorporates sacred Orthodox texts, in the Church Slavonic language, it blends them with themes from Nikolai Leskov’s eponymous story. As the composer wrote, “The religious feeling runs through Leskov’s story. As though golden spangles of initial lines of Orthodox liturgical chants sung by Leskov’s Old Believers in hard times are scattered here and there.” In the end, the work is a modern Russian secular liturgy based on canonical Orthodox texts, and results in music of surpassing sensual beauty.
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