The Russian treasure of Chroma Choir, a musical masterpiece


The Chroma Chamber Choir, performing Russian Treasure, conducted by Pete Rainey at Nelson Cathedral.

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The Chroma Chamber Choir, performing Russian Treasure, conducted by Pete Rainey at Nelson Cathedral.

Review: A rainy Saturday afternoon in Nelson Cathedral seemed made to immerse us in the enduring Russian spirit that is so distinctly revealed in the Eastern Orthodox liturgy.

The Chroma Chamber Choir has created a tender and meditative atmosphere as we in the audience are allowed to be silent within groups of objects to absorb their beauty and meaning.

Conductor Pete Rainey had all of his might under excellent direction and deserves a huge thank you from Nelson’s classical music fans for bringing such a thematically satisfying program to fruition.

The chorus was at its best in this very demanding a cappella performance with its fine pitch control and great dynamic range.

The Lord’s Prayer by English composer John Tavener (a convert to the Greek Orthodox Church) set the scene with his deceptively simple ascending and descending scale, and with music by Golovanov Cherub hymn we began to hear the dense textures of Russian congregational song as we imagine it, nourished in the hearts of believers even under the yoke of the Soviet Union.

The opportunity to even hear five movements of Rachmaninoff Vigil All Night, Op.37 was a highlight of the program.

This demanding but exquisite work is not often performed by amateur groups, as the forces required for full performance are very complex.

Based on orthodox vocals, with long melismatic vocal lines revealing breath control and wonderful dynamics in the choir, we, in turn, held our breath as the bass found low B flat in the 5th movement.

Apparently, even in Russia it was difficult to find voices capable of such reach. It was a magical experience.

Tchaikovsky was represented by his op.41 Our Father, and Tebe Poyem, from the liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom.

Stravinsky’s version of The Lord’s Prayer was suitably understated and unadorned, apparently written to counteract a romantic tendency to move away from a strict adherence to Orthodox song. Estonian Arvo Pāt Bogoroditse Devo (Rejoice, O Virgin) was a lively interval in the far more contemplative program.

At breakneck speed, the text was delivered with precision while retaining the tenderness of its message of praise.

Alfred Schnittke’s final group of three sacred hymns wrapped up a wonderful concert that delighted audiences with an encore featuring bass, Graham O’Brien and a beautiful hidden bird (Jane Quinton) emphatically rehearsing his track melodious while the choir sang the Awakening from Sviridov’s Op. 7, Pushkin’s Garland.

What a treasure indeed this choir and this conductor, with their great aspiration to bring to Nelson the most beautiful jewels of the choral repertoire.

Russian treasure: favorites of the Russian choral repertoire

Chroma Chamber Choir, conducted by Pete Rainey

Nelson Cathedral, Saturday May 29, 2 p.m.

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