The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Let My Prayer Arise - October 27, 2012
by Dick Frantzreb
The Slavic Chorale is an organization with a soul. Part of what I mean by that is that the first of their goals (as stated in their website) is to “glorify God through music and through service to people in our community.” The first part of that goal came through in the program for this concert – all religious music – and it was emphasized by the setting: the large, beautiful and resonant St. Francis of Assisi Church in Sacramento. But the singing was itself soulful: rich, with precise harmonies and impressive dynamics accompanied by well-controlled crescendos and decrescendos. But let’s start at the beginning.
The concert was introduced by Pavel Kravchuk, the Director of the Slavic Chorale, who addressed the audience in both Russian and English. The program began with 4 pieces sung by the Blossom Children’s Choir, from a local Slavic Baptist congregation. The children sang a diverse set of music in English, Latin, and Russian and performed well. Realizing that those children and the great majority of the audience were bilingual (first- or second-generation immigrants), I couldn’t help but be a little embarrassed at being mostly unilingual and reflect on the difficulties immigrants face in integrating into a new country with a different dominant language. And it struck me how important an event like this is for the Slavic community. That thought was emphasized by these words in the concert program: “The mission of the Slavic Chorale is to help unify the Slavic community and be a positive influence in our region through the performance of classical and spiritual music.”
Click here to open the concert program in a new window.
The Slavic Chorale’s performance began with “Bless the Lord, O My Soul” by Ippolitov-Ivanov, sung in a circular formation in the crossing (the central part of the church). To me, it was a perfect representation of Russian liturgical music – moving and sonorous. Like every other piece in the program (except the last), it was sung a cappella. The chorus of 26 singers was almost evenly balanced between men and women. It looked like none of them (including the director) could be over 40, and there couldn’t be many over 30.
Although there was a strong representation of classical Russian composers in the music that followed after the group assembled on the risers at the front of the church, there was significant variety in the second half of the concert, including the music of composers of different cultures, with very different sounds. Variety was also achieved in different combinations of singers: two pieces by men’s quartets, a song sung by a mixed group of 7, and a solo by a soprano member of the Chorale.
It seemed to me that all of the music in the concert would be approachable, in fact pleasant listening, even to the unsophisticated ear. And that goes, too, for the two harmonically and rhythmically challenging pieces by Arvo Pärt. I, for one, loved nearly everything I heard.
But a lot of my enjoyment stemmed from the quality of the singing. My ear is far from perfect, but I didn’t notice any pitch problems throughout the a cappella singing. What I heard was a pure, balanced sound and evidence of great vocal control. There was also some very delicate, sensitive – even exquisite – singing. At one point, the phrase “finely woven fabric of polyphony” occurred to me as I was listening.I started by observing that the Slavic Chorale is an organization with a soul. Its idealism is expressed in the stated goals I’ve already referred to. But there’s more to their concern for community than being a unifying factor for those of Slavic heritage. Despite the fact that most of the conversations I heard were in Russian, there were many in English. And it was notable that the affable Director, Pavel Kravchuk, announced each piece in both Russian and English. I think everyone there felt the welcoming spirit that was expressed in Mr. Kravchuk’s final words: “Our goal is to bring people together and to be a blessing to you."