The Russian a cappella vocal ensemble Archiglas, directed by Dmitry Vorobjev, returned to Raleigh on the evening of April 13 to present a free concert at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, the group's third performance here since 2001. A free-will offering facilitated their current American tour.
The precision of the Archiglas vocal ensemble's a cappella work shone radiantly throughout the evening. Four, five and sometimes six voices sang brilliantly with the force of a full choir. Advertised in advance as four voices, two equally-matched performers had joined them by April 13. A stunning sameness in strength of delivery pervaded the entire program. It was entirely pleasing, and each individual performance moved the audience. Forte was the operative mode. Everything came through "loud and clear" and drew spontaneous and sometimes boisterous applause to match, the ovation beginning one time before they were quite through.
In a sanctuary surrounded by modern stained glass windows, the audience thrilled to the brilliance of vocal sound. This was complemented by the brilliant colors of national costumes that enhanced the folk music section of the performance of the St. Petersburg-based ensemble quite properly named Archiglas, which means "outstanding voice." This delightfully spectacular treat followed the introductory half of the program, performed in formal wear and devoted entirely to sacred music by Russian composers. Individual entrances, choreographed to dramatize the costuming and to focus on each performer, separately, proved very effective.
During the ensemble's break for costume changes, there was a musical interlude, performed by the outstanding countertenor Oleg Bezinskikh with Vorobjev at the organ. Bezinskikh sang an aria from Pergolesi's Stabat Mater and an "Ave Maria" set by the composer Giulio Caccini (c.1550-1618). The altogether too heavy organ accompaniment broke the spell of perfection that otherwise pervaded the entire program. Pergolesi's complete Stabat Mater received an entirely different, more traditional interpretation, with harpsichord, at the Chapel of the Cross the previous week, but the emotion evoked by the heavy countertenor voice was comparatively magnificent, prompting thoughts of the controlled but quieter perfection of the American countertenor, Jonathan Hiam, who sang in Chapel Hill.
Sacred music compositions that originated in Russia filled the first half of the program, starting with Tchaikovsky's "Praise the Lord from the Heavens." Pavel Tchesnokov's "An Angel is crying: rejoice!" provided a vehicle for the gorgeous, strong soprano voice of Natalia Lebed. The composer's "The Wise Thief," Op. 40/3, was apparently new to the choir, since it is not among the tour repertory listed at their web site. Alexander Kosolapov's "O God, Established Orthodox Beliefs," yielded a rich solo opportunity for Bezinskikh.
In addition to the countertenor, the outstanding voice of the evening for me was the rich deep contralto of Ekaterina Tselebrovskaia, introduced as a mezzo-soprano. The richness of her low tones was heart-rending in Tchesnokov's "The Eternal Counsel." The sacred program continued with "Rejoice, O Virgin," No. 6 of Rachmaninov's Vespers, Op. 37. Another remarkable soloist was bass-baritone Andrey Burin, whose voice was richer than most American-trained male singers; I have heard a comparable sound only in a soloist with the Kiev Symphony. The sacred portion of the program ended with Dmitri Bortniansky's "Let us come and rejoice," in ABA form (fast-slow-fast) and introduced as a concerto.
After the previously-mentioned break, seven folk songs were performed, each with vocal color as vivid as the costumes the singers wore. "There was a berry in a field" featured Tselebrovskaia's glorious voice. Her range appears to be considerable, and I was again impressed with her velvety low tones. "An old man" involved Lebed and tenor Daniil Sokolov and equally attractive solos by various members of the ensemble. "In the dark forest," clearly announced, was lovely. "There are many mosquitoes in the forest" cleverly represented insects with 32nd notes. "Schedrik-schedrik" the (Christmas) "Carol of the Bells," was well-received for its familiarity as well as the impressive performance. "Birch branch brooms" and "The snow storm along the street" followed with similarly rich full interpretations.
The Russian style of vocal training was apparent throughout: never reticent, always using the breath from the depth of the diaphragm, controlled with full force and precision.
At the end, Archiglas paid tribute to its host country with "America the Beautiful," presumably arranged by the director. It was unusually lovely and would be worth inclusion at the group's web site.
Director and baritone Vorobjev led throughout while standing at the far right. During the sacred music section, he held his music folder as the others did but rotated it in a unique fashion, conducting as he sang. With no printed handout, it was he who announced the program. It was a challenge to match his words with a repertory list obtained from Archiglas' site; printed programs would have helped the audience and provided an opportunity for the group to provide more information about its work at home and abroad. After the concert, the ensemble did brisk business, selling CDs of its glorious music in the lobby.