Holst Singers: Radiant Light (Concert Review - Bachtrack, 2014)

The Temple Music series held in the beautiful Temple Church features some star studded early evening recitals and intriguing repertoire, and tonight’s concert was no exception. The Holst Singers are an experienced group, performing a wide variety of concerts around London and the world. Tonight we were treated to a Russian choral extravaganza featuring some of the lesser known Russian composers alongside some old favourites by Rachmaninov and Gretchaninov.

The programme revolved around several exquisite settings of the words of The Lords Prayer and the opening number was a little known version by Nikolai Golovanov, which made the most of the extraordinary resonance of the choir and the building. The flow and clarity of text was wonderful and the writing featured everything that I love about Russian choral writing – profoundly low bass lines, sorting sopranos and fantastic range of expression and dynamics. The more dance-like Gretchaninov hymns were a nice contrast to the dark and rich sound of the Chesnokov and again the crisp consonants of the Holst Singers brought the overlapping vocal entries to life in the “Cherubic Hymn”, which culminated in a glorious “Alleluia”.

The two Kalinnikov works which followed included a setting of the “Bogoroditse Devo”, which was a refreshing discovery for me – a trudging bass line really showed off the clarity of the lower registers and was always audible, despite being overlaid by some dense textures. The mystical setting of the “Otche Nash”, the second of this evening’s programme, was filled with indulgent harmonies and lead cleverly attacca into the famous Rachmaninov “Bogoroditse Devo” from hisVespers. I thought this was masterfully done – the unexpectedness of its appearance almost seamlessly from the previous piece leant an extra magical quality to this well known one. The ebb and flow of the words, sung with a hushed sense of awe was simply beautiful: a real highlight of the evening, despite being the most famous piece in the programme.

After another group of Gretchaninov featuring a fantastic mezzo soloist in the setting of “The Creed”, we ended the evening with Lukazewski’s “Nunc Dimittis” featuring two more soloists who were unfortunately less audible than the previous mezzo. However the choir achieved another mystical atmosphere and the key changes from major to minor were beautifully handled. The final piece in the programme was Henryk Gorecki’s Totus Tuus, an immense and dramatic work which builds tension and power through seemingly endless and increasingly passionate repeats of the text. The repetitive nature of the work was approached in a beautifully colourful way and the range of dynamics and vocal colour was impressive.

By Emily Owen