East Meets West – Sacred Music across continents
Our next concert will take place in Northleach Parish Church on Saturday 20 June 2015 at 7.30pm and again in Holy Innocents Church, Highnam on Saturday 27 June at 7.30pm.
The concert will be conducted by John Holloway with David Whitehead on the organ and will include:
Rachmaninoff – Come Let Us Worship
Rachmaninoff – Balzhen Muzh
Gretchaninoff – Gladsome Light
Gretchaninoff – Now the Powers of Heaven
Kedrov – Otche Nash
Chesnokov – The Angel Cried Out
Kalinnikov – Gladsome Light
Holst – Nunc Dimittis
Howells – Requiem
Wesley – Ascribe Unto The Lord
In the fourth century the Roman Empire under Constantine was split into two and an eastern capital established at Byzantium, renamed by the emperor, in honour of himself, Constantinople.
This had major repercussions for the burgeoning Christian religion leading to many centuries of dispute between the Eastern and Western branches over doctrine and practice and leading, ultimately, to schism formalised in 1054.
For the history of European culture the Eastern Orthodox liturgy practised in Slavic countries, most specifically in Russia, has provided a counterpoint in both style and content to that of the western tradition be it Catholic or Protestant for many centuries. There is a profound solemnity to much of the eastern liturgy with its emphasis on the contemplation if icons and this is reflected in the music which has benefited in modern times from the attention of the greatest of Russian composers such as Tchaikovsky, Gretchaninov and Rachmaninov.
The use of ‘Church Slavonic’ as the language of worship, the traditional monophonic chants and the exploitation of the vast open spaces of cathedrals intensify the impact of the music but also present special challenges to Western choirs who attempt to convey the substance of this remarkable music. The tradition of very low bass voices too asks questions of both vocal technique and choral textures.
We have selected a group of pieces from 19th and 20th century composers to convey some idea of the range of this music. The simplicity of Nikolai Kedrov’s setting of the Lord’s Prayer contrasts with the complexity of Alexandre Gretchaninov’s ‘Now The Powers Of Heaven’. The drama of Rachmaninov’s ‘Come Let Us Worship’ from his famous Vesper collection is set against the stillness of Gretchaninov’s ‘Gladsome Light’ and the almost operatic ‘The Angel Cried Out’ by Pavel Chesnokov with its soaring soprano solo.
We present three masterpieces of the Western repertoire to throw the Russian pieces into relief. Samuel Sebastian Wesley’s music is the foundation of our modern tradition of sacred performance and his great anthem ‘Ascribe Unto The Lord’ of 1851 presents a guide to all that we had learned from the 19th century German tradition and especially from Mendelssohn.
Holst’s eight part ‘Nunc Dimittis’ is as near as Western composers ever get to the eastern tradition; Holst maintained an interest in the Orient throughout his life. However, the stillness of the opening does not last and, by the time of the Gloria, we are enjoying an almost symphonic momentum.
Central to the Western part of our programme is Herbert Howells’ ‘Requiem’ written in 1932 but not released for performance until 1980. After the death of Howell’s son Michael in 1935 this work grew in significance for the composer and some of its music was rearranged in ‘Hymnus Paradisi’ a work dedicated to Michael’s memory. The six sections are filled with the harmonic richness and expressive melody of Howells’ unmistakable language.
John Holloway 01/04/2015
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