April 2017

Hermitage Ensemble Concert 11 March 2017

At St Helen’s on 11 March in a packed church we were privileged to hear a concert of Russian mu- sic by the Hermitage Ensemble. This group of talented professional singers from the ballet and opera companies of St Petersburg has been per- forming in the UK for many years, but this is the first time they have visited Abingdon. It was re- freshing to hear music from a tradition different from the sacred choral music tradition familiar to us in the UK.

The first half of the concert comprised unaccompanied sacred music from the Russian Ortho- dox church tradi- tion. Some of the composers whose music we heard were regular writ- ers of church mu- sic; others, such as Tschaikovsky and Rachmaninov, are perhaps more well-known today for their secular compositions. So it was particularly interesting to hear how their music compared with that of Grechaninov and Ippolitov-Ivanov, whose mu- sic is perhaps rarely heard outside the Russian orthodox tradition. The impassioned pleading of Tschaikovsky’s ‘Lord, save the faithful’ contrasted with the gentler setting of the Lord’s Prayer by the same composer. Rachmaninov was represented by a beautifully moving setting of the Hail Mary. But the power of the musi- cians’ voices was never in doubt, particularly during Ristov’s setting of ‘In your kingdom’, with a fine rendition by the baritone soloist.

The second half consisted of a selection of Rus- sian folk songs, lighter and in a more varied tradition. The regular rhythms of ‘The Volga Boatmen’s song’ were perhaps familiar to many of the audience. The drinking song was amusing, and well-received, with the bass solo-

ist’s antics bringing a particular response from the audience! By contrast ‘Midnight in Moscow’ was a quiet, restful setting, reminiscent of some of the gentler songs in the English folk music tradition.

With many pieces being unfamiliar, programme notes including information about the composers and the music would have been helpful.

No description of the evening’s en- tertainment would be com- plete without mentioning the huge range of delicious canapés served up by members of the congregation.


addition, a sub- stantial sum was raised for the re- ordering fund.

Michael Hosking Solution to March Crossword by Ian Miles


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