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Pokrovsky brings ancient Russian folk traditions to life


Dmitri Pokrovsky, artistic director.

Event in the International

Early Music Series.

Tremont Temple, October 21.


Nancy Armstrong, James Kleyla,

Laurie Monahan and

Rockland Osgood, soloists.

Boston Cecilia Period Instruments

Orchestra and Chorus,

Donald Teeters, music director.

Jordan Hall, October 22.


DMITRI POKROVSKY and his ensemble bring life to ancient Russian folk traditions on different levels: in last Saturday's concert in Boston, we heard a series of religious pieces in performances which conveyed their timeless sense of spirituality. Also on display were an abundance of secular numbers, done with infectious wit.

The evening began with earthy renditions of Cossack music, deep and throaty sounding. The plaintive polyphony of the western Russian religious works which followed was highly evocative. "Soft Light," a 16th century Russian Orthodox piece for Easter services was quite beautiful, its dirge-like effect both restful and refreshing. The "Halleluiah" which followed was upbeat and celebratory.

The Briansk region has a ritual fertility dance done with women and a goat; the Pokrovsky ensemble re-enacted it to hilarious effect. But the most unusual item on the first part of the program was a performance of wedding music played to ward off evil spirits on a vargan -- a mouth harp popular in Russia. The variety of twanging effects vargan virtuoso Alexander Danilov produced was incredible. Many members of the audience laughed -- the sound was certainly funny -- but the performance was also gripping, even hypnotic.

An instrument called a gusly produced music rather like bluegrass; an accelerating square dance later swept the women in the ensemble off their feet. To close, the ensemble went dancing into the lobby and, joined by the audience, brought the evening, to an end in an atmosphere of high spirits.

JUDAS MACCABAEUS may have a banal libretto (by Thomas Morell) but the story of Maccabee's triumph over Antiochus and the liberation of Jerusalem has been given some wonderful music by Handel. The orchestra and chorus of the Boston Cecilia did it justice.

Solo performances were competent if not consistently remarkable. Laurie Monahan was the most impressive of the soloists. Her rendition of "Father of Heav'n" was nuanced and particularly moving; she was consistently the most emotionally involved of the singers. Nancy Armstrong's singing was pretty and sometimes colorful, but not always up to the expressiveness of Handel's music. Along similar lines, the performances of Rockland Osgood and James Kleyla were on firm ground, but fell short of probing the deeper meanings in the score.

The Cecilia chorus, however, was remarkable, beautifully balanced and flexible in sound. Here was real Handelian singing, bold and full of drive for the famous "See, the conqu'ring hero comes," but drawn to pathos in the more serious numbers.

Orchestral sound was equally rich, the thrustful blasts of virtuoso trumpet playing equaled by the piquancy of quieter moments for cello or organ. Individual orchestral voices contributed many moments of delight; the blending of their messages into a serenely-fashioned unity gave the performance a coherence that drew its drama together.