Lyra Present Russian Vocal Music in all its Variety

Bortnyansky, Rachmaninov, Martini, Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Rossini, Vilboa, Traditional: The Lyra Vocal Ensemble, [Andrei Sysoev (tenor & leader),  Aleksei Gloviznin (Bass), Zlata Goglo (mezzo), Marina Busso (soprano)], Cheltenham Minster, Cheltenham, 29.4.2015, (RJ)

Political relations with Russia may be frosty at present, but fortunately on the cultural front feelings are far more cordial. Russian opera and ballet companies are frequent visitors to our shores – often touring to places that our national companies ignore; on a smaller scale you have enterprising groups such as Lyra Vocal Ensemble from St Petersburg.

Lyra’s recital embraced a wide range of genres beginning with Russian church music, sung a capella, much of which was unfamiliar to the audience. Glory to the Father by the 18th century composer Bortnyansky showed a marked Italian influence, yet there was no mistaking the Russian fervour the singers injected into it. The 21st century was represented by Let light show us the way, a setting by the quartet’s leader Andrei Sysoev, which despite its dissonance was very much steeped in the Orthodox Church tradition. It was pleasing to hear the more familiar Hail, Virgin Mother of God from Rachmaninov’s Vespers, which drew admiration from local choral society members who had performed the work a year ago and were hearing it sung with authentic Russian diction for the first time.

I was expecting the secular works in the first half to be by Russian composers, but only one of them was. Aleksei Goloviznin’s rendition Gremin’s aria from Act III of Eugene Onegin reflected utter contentment, and I would have loved to hear more extracts from Tchaikovsky’s wonderful opera. But the foursome were obviously keen to show off their cosmopolitan credentials, and instead treated the audience to Martini’s Plaisir d’amour and Rossini’s Cat Song – complete with cat’s ears and a fish(!). Soprano Marina Busse brought down the house with her scornful In uomini, in soldati from Cosi fan tutte in which she berates soldiers for their infidelity; and there was a further opportunity to hear her stunning voice in the second part of the programme when she sang the Snowmaiden’s Aria by Rimsky Korskov.

Aftedr the interval came a change of style and dress. Lyra returned clad in traditional costumes to celebrate mainly the rich folk song tradition of their homeland in which love seemed to be the overriding theme. Hey, my little winter, Poruska-Poranja and the Cossak folk song Golden Bee despite their unfamiliarity proved to be lively affairs, and the light-hearted introductions of Zlata Goglo and Andrei Sysoev gave the audience a good intsight into each song’s meaning. The mood changed to wistfulness with Tchaikovsky’s Don’t believe me when I say I no longer love you sung with moving sincerity by Zlata Goglo, after which the men came into their own with a rousing performance of Sailors by Konstantin Vilboa.

As an introduction to the music of Russia in all its variety this recital could hardly have been bettered, though I rather wish Lyra had shown a little more couage and devised an all-Russian programme. Still, their singing and good humour entranced the audience, and I feel sure many more people in the UK will be won over to the delights of Russian culture over the coming month.

Roger Jones

Lyra’s UK tour continues until the end of May. They are scheduled to perform in the folowing places: Tisbury, Alton, Westonzoyland, Piddlerenthide, Axbridge, Abergavenny, Devizes, Longdon, Hinton in the Hedges, Hambleden, Lewes, Steep, New Ash Green, Egerton, Findeon, Manchester, Skildon, Swaledale Festival.

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