There’s no doubt that the sound of the St Petersburg Chamber Choir is quite distinctive. Whether it is the Russian language, the way they speak, the way they sing or even something ‘in the air’, they produce a richness that is unique.
The ensemble, conducted y Nikolai Korniev has recorded a compilation of a capella sacred works under the title Tranquillity: Voices of Deep Calm, released on the Decca label through Universal Music and ABC Classics, produced by the Grammy nominated Anna Barry.
The music is by Russian masters, Rachmanninov, Kalinnikov, Liadov and Tchesnokov, with anonymous and traditional works, with the exception of one piece. That exception brings to the compilation, the De Profundis of Welsh contemporary composer Paul Mealor, with the vocal ensemble augmented by Tim Storms, the record holding bass singer who is able to generate the E of 329 Hertz frequency, over 2 octaves below middle C required by the score. The note is six notes below the lowest note ever written for a choral piece, a B flat from Rachmaninov’s All Night Vigil.
The Welsh born Paul Mealor is Professor of Composition at Aberdeen University in Scotland. His work is informed by nature, his religious faith and a desire to bring to listeners “music that can touch people and bring calm and peace to their lives.”
Speaking to Sounds Like Sydney earlier this year, he said the low E represented several facets of humanity. “It’s a thing of beauty, it speaks of mankind’s talent, and depicts the earthliness of man as this sound rises up from the very depths of the body and the soul. I wanted to create a sense of seeing the heavens from the earth by writing really low notes – coming from right inside. I wanted the listener to feel the vibrations as well as to hear them.”
Mealor came to worldwide prominence in April 2011 when his motet Ubi Caritas was commissioned by TRH The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, to be performed at their wedding in Westminster Abbey. ” I was told early on that the piece would give a moment of absolute calm in the wedding – after all the hurly burly, and the sermon, they wanted a moment of stillness,” he says of the brief.
De Profundis just over 4 minutes long, lives up to its aim of generating a visceral sound that creates a primal earthiness, a rumbling that grounds the music which is otherwise contrasting in range, style and language – the choir sings columns of chords in Latin whilst the soloist sings a cantus firmus in English.
Excerpts from Rachmaninov’s All Night Vigil opus 37 and the less frequently heard Liturgy of St John Chrysostum opus 31 are welcome inclusions. Curiously, the fifth movement from the Vigil which features the B flat which till now has been the lowest note written in choral music, is not featured.
The hymns by Kalinnikov, Liadov and Tchenekov have received a well deserved hearing. Of the composers, only Rachmaninov and Tchesnekov lived through the Russian Revolution in 1917. Kalinnikov died in 1901 and Liadvo 1914. Their music creates a sense of what Russian worship might have been like before the Soviets.
The St. Petersburg Chamber Choir delivers a beautifully polished performance, producing a sound that is intrinsic to Russian choral music. Founded in 1977, it comprises professional musicians who have completed their studies at Russia ‘s top musical institutions. In 1994 the choir was awarded a Grammy for the best Choral Performance of the Vespers by Sergei Rachmaninov.
The conductor of the St Petersburg Chamber Choir, Nikolai Kornev was born in St. Petersburg in 1948. He received his musical education at the Michael Glinka College of Music, the oldest choir school in Russia. He obtained the Diploma of Conducting at the Conservatoire of St. Petersburg. Nikolai Kornev is also an academic and the founder and artistic director of the St. Petersburg International Festival of Choir Music.
Producer Anna Barry’s comments in the insert are interesting. Some insights into the composers, the compositions and the performers would have rounded off the offering. This serene and exquisitely performed compilation is to be considered when seeking music for quiet contemplation or a need to touch with the spiritual.
‘Tranquility:Voices of Deep Calm’ has been recorded by St Petersburg Chamber Choir on the Decca label for Universal Music and is available through ABC Classics, catalogue number 37099351
Shamistha de Soysa for Sounds Like Sydney©
Read our interview with Paul Mealor at