On Saturday November 17, the St. Lawrence Choir performed its Slava! programme at the St Sophie Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral. The programme featured the premiere of two works. Alelouya 2 by Armenian-born Petros Shoujouian, currently of Montreal, and Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal by Larysa Kuzmenko, a Toronto-based composer, pianist and Juno nominee.
What you missed
The St Lawrence Choir’s mixed voice ensemble under the direction of Phillipe Bourque could not have chosen a more fitting venue for their performance of their programme Slava!, which means “glory” in Ukrainian. The space itself did honour to the multitude of tonalities of the a cappella programme of Eastern Orthodox liturgical music performed by the choir, now in its 46th year.
The two part programme opened with Roman Hurko’s Alleluia from Liturgy No 2, followed by Oleksandr Koshetz’s (1875-1945) arrangement of the Cherubic Hymn, an integral part of the Orthodox liturgy. Our Father, the second part of Roman Hurko’s Requiem for the the Victims of Chornobyl, preceded Rachmaninoff’s first six parts of All-Night Vigil (Op. 37) considered by Francis Maes of the University of Ghent to be one of Rachmaninoff’s finest achievements. Hurko’s Requiem and its rendition by the choir returned me to the time I heard its world premiere performed in Kyiv on April 26, 2001. The first part of the programme closed with the world premiere of Shoujouian’s Alelouya 2. The presentation of all the Slavic works were extremely well rendered by the choir and evidenced by the level of professionalism the choir has achieved during its over forty-five years of existence, and the dedication of the choristers and Artistic Director Bourque.
Hurko’s Liturgy No 3, opened the second part of the programme and it was followed by the five remaining parts of Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil (Op. 37). The atmosphere set by the choir was short of divine, and it was evident by those around me and the choristers that I was not the only one who was able to escape into an unearthly place filled with some type of deeper meaning.
The remainder of Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil, was split with the insertion of Kuzmenko’s Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, where the 13th part of the vigil and Troparion entitled Today Salvation is Come was to be. The last two parts of Rachmaninoff’s vigil closed the programme.
It seemed evident, from the expression on the chorister’s faces, that their level of enjoyment was not the same during their singing of Shoujouian’s world premiere of Alelouya 2. While I can’t be certain of the reason for this, I would like to give the St. Lawrence Choir the benefit of the doubt as Armenian liturgical music does differ from the Slavic forms of liturgical music.