by Norge Yip, Lister reviewer
On Saturday, September 26, Los Angeles Master Chorale and conductor Grant Gershon opened the 2015-2016 season with “The Russian Evolution” at Walt Disney Concert Hall. The concert featured compositions by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Alexander Grechaninov, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Andrei Ilyashenko, and Sofia Gubaidulina.
Grechaninov’s The Cherubic Hymn opened the program as an anchor complimented by settings of the hymn in selections by Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff featured in the second half. Twenty-four singers from the chorale set the stage for this 8-part hymn, and the sounds was exquisite. The singers’ precision and unity was so precise, you could not discern more than one voice on a part. Such a masterful performance set high expectations easily met by Gershon and the singers.
The second piece of the program was the most contemporary in chronology and composition. Sofia Gubaidulina’s The Canticle of the Sun called for chorus as well as soprano, alto, tenor and bass soloists – Anna Schubert, Niké St. Clair, Matthew Tresler and Reid Bruton respectively. Lisa Edwards on celeste, Theresa Diamond and John Wakefield on percussion and the amazing Robert deMaine on cello complemented the singers.
DeMaine was the star by far on this truly unique piece, which called for re-tuning the instrument on its lowest string multiple times and even abandoning the cello in order to play glissandi on a flexatone, a small percussion instrument that is reminiscent of the musical saw. Tapping the cello with the back side of the bow, water glasses vibrating, singers incanting in the extremes of their ranges and the instruction to change instruments in this nearly 40-minute work made for a theatrical presentation that certainly left everyone with something to talk about during intermission.
The second half of the concert consisted of selections from Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom by Tchaikovsky as well as Rachmaninoff, selections from Passion Week by Grechaninov, selections from All-Night Vigil by Rachmaninoff, and closed with We Should Choose to Love Silence by Ilyashenko. Quite simply put, if you are not listening to these pieces performed in Russia, this is the next best thing. Los Angeles Master Chorale serves Russian works as they should, with finesse, heart and earthiness. Perhaps only those who have endured the political and religious trials of the composers’ homeland could do greater justice.
The closing piece was a slightly lesser-known work, We Should Choose to Love Silence by Ilyashenko. A concerto for celebrating the Nativity, the concert ended with a peaceful benediction of traditional chant and remarkable choral harmonies.