‘Russian Gems’ to cap choral concerts

Choirs to perform today, Saturday at First United Methodist Church

Members of the Durango Choral Society, Durango Women’s Choir, Fort Lewis College Chamber Choir and Telluride’s Renaissance Singers rehearse for two concerts this weekend at First United Methodist Church. Enlarge photo

Paul Boyer/Courtesy of Durango Choral Society

Members of the Durango Choral Society, Durango Women’s Choir, Fort Lewis College Chamber Choir and Telluride’s Renaissance Singers rehearse for two concerts this weekend at First United Methodist Church.

Four local choirs will strive to join Heaven and Earth together this weekend. In song, anyway.

The Durango Choral Society will play ringmaster for a vocal extravaganza that also includes Telluride’s Renaissance Singers, the Fort Lewis College Chamber Choir and the Durango Women’s Choir for two concerts.

An early highlight will be the Women’s Choir’s premiere of “A Song of Grace,” by Linda Rice Beck, who will attend both concerts. Then it will get loud, as the combined choirs will sing “in the round,” surrounding the audience, for two “Russian Gems.”

The first of the final two works is Rachmanifnoff’s “Bogoroditse Devo.” Afterward, will be the finale, Bortniansky’s “Cherubic Hymn.” About 125 singers will ring the audience for the Russian numbers.

“Bogoroditse Devo” is probably the best known of Rachmaninoff’s “Vespers” cycle, the common name of his “All Night Vigil.”

It was composed during the last period when sacred music was still legal until the Revolution of 1917. The result is a liturgical sound with all the power of Rachmaninoff’s signature sound, and the piece should be right at home at First United Methodist Church.

The Ukrainian Dmitry Stepanovich Bortniansky’s entry also is unmistakably religious in tone.

He composed in many different musical genres and styles, including choral compositions in French, Italian, Latin, German, Church Slavonic and Russian.

In 1882, Pyotr Tchaikovsky edited the liturgical works of Bortniansky, which were published in 10 volumes.

The Cherubic Hymn is the primary “cherubikon,” or song of the angels, sung during every Divine Liturgy of the year after the Gospel reading except those of Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday.

The tune Bortniansky wrote for the Latin hymn “Tantum Ergo” eventually became known in Slavic lands as “Kol Slaven,” in which form it is still sung as a Christmas carol today.

It traveled to English-speaking countries and is now known as “Russia,” “St. Petersburg” or “Wells.”

In Germany, the song became a well-known chorale and traditional part of the military ceremony of the German army, rendered as an honor for distinguished persons on special occasions.

Before the October revolution in 1917, the tune was played by the Moscow Kremlin carillon every day at midday.

James Blish, who novelized many episodes of the original series of Star Trek, noted in one story, “Whom Gods Destroy,” that Bortniansky’s “Ich bete an die Macht der Liebe” was the theme “to which all Starfleet Academy classes marched to their graduation.”

ted@durangoherald.com.