Sacred a cappella music is a hitherto unknown aspect in the work of Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov who has been championed by ECM New Series since 2001. By treating the choir as an ensemble of “expressively restrained soloists” (Silvertrov) and dividing the sections into small groups the composer acquires unique sonic and harmonic effects and utmost flexibility of melody and rhythm. The immaterial sound of his choral settings seems to underline his own comment about his own music being “the world singing of itself”. The vocally outstanding performances were realised in close collaboration with the composer in 2006 and 2007 and previously released in the Ukraine yet not distributed internationally.
While concentrating on piano and chamber music and on symphonic works for decades Silvestrov turned to choral composition relatively late in his career. “Being an individualist, choirs were never my initial interest. The piano – there lies my fate”, he once said. In 1977, shortly after completing his “Silent Songs” (ECM 1898/99) he wrote an a cappella cantata based on verses by Taras Schewtschenko but it took almost twenty years until the piece received its première. “Diptych” (1995) was followed by the large-scale “Requiem for Larissa” (ECM 1778) in which Silvestrov tried to overcome his wife’s early demise.
It was Mykola Hobdych’s relentless encouragement that motivated Silevstrov to immerse himself more deeply into the choral world and to study old Russian litanies. “Mykola brought me masses of music with liturgies by other composers, and in one of them I found the entire texts of the divine liturgy of St. John Chrysostomos. About the general picture I had not yet made up my mind but the first litany I read gave me an initial impulse on the spot. I touched it and the text started to resonate in me.” Within a few weeks the cycle of “Liturgical Chants” was completed. While liturgical elements from the orthodox church form the backbone the music is not intended to be used in ritualistic contexts. The overall design follows immanent musical principles and the setting of the words is imbued by ecumenism. The emotional approach on the other hand is characterised by subjective lyricism. Silvestrov considers his choral music to be essentially pianistic with the piano keys being replaced by singing voices: “It’s situational singing without any directional indications” he told Mykola Hobdych.
The Kiev Chamber Choir was founded in 1990 by its director Mykola Hobdych and graduates from Ukrainian conservatories and universities. It subsequently won various European choral competitions and participated in more than twenty international music festivals. The choir has toured extensively and recorded more than 30 CDs.