SOUNDS AND VIEWS
by Roman Sawycky
"Golden Echoes of Kyiv"
With the title above we have a new first for the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus, an a cappella recording (sans banduras) of the divine liturgy, as sung in Ukraine and the diaspora. Performed in authentic style without instrumental accompaniment, the CD is both a vocal and technical achievement for the UBC and its artistic director, Oleh Mahlay, who at age 33 he is the youngest conductor to lead this ensemble, founded in 1918.
Mr. Mahlay conducts an exciting music tour: starting with an ancient Kyivan chant through the classic 18th century milestones of Maksym Berezovsky and Dmytro Bortniansky, well into the 20th century. We get to hear more recent sonic landmarks by Mykola Leontovych, Alexander Koshetz, Andrii Hnatyshyn and, yes, Oleh Mahlay - a total of 10 centuries of singing, of searching for artistic beauty and spiritual fulfillment - all in 68 minutes and 31 selections.
Let's look at some items up close. "Epistle" (selection 12) features impressive basso Mychail Newmerzycky, but in other works also noteworthy are Omelan Helbig, first tenor and Borys Kekish, second tenor. The latter partakes in Bortniansky's Cherubym Hymn No. 7 - one of the most memorable staples of the UBC repertory through the decades. Victor Shewell, first tenor, is well disposed in the "Creed" (No. 18), and the "Lord's Prayer" (No. 22) receives suit is well-rendered by Taras Zakordonski, first tenor. However, the composer of "The Lord's Prayer" (Otche Nash) - Nicholas Dubensky, is no match for the Leontovych masterpiece which is not included on the CD under review.
But the unique polyphony (literally, a work of many voices or parts) of Leontovych is represented in two other selections. Likewise, most welcome is "Litany of Thanksgiving" by the late Hryhory Kytasty, former longtime artistic director of the UBC. His presence still resonates among bandurists, taking their well-grounded, traditional musicianship into the 21st century. "Prayer for Ukraine" (Bozhe Velykyi, Yedynyi") by Lysenko-Koshetz serves as a fine and fitting finale for this choral bel canto program.
The liturgy was recorded live at St. Stephen's Ukrainian Orthodox Church, in Brunswick, Ohio, and St. Josaphat's Ukrainian Catholic Church in Warren, Mich. The CD reproduces full, resonant sound with the typical natural ambiance we associate with large churches or cathedrals. The chorus sings naturally (as if praying) without straining or forcing any one register. The four voices (first and second tenors, baritones and basses) are as one - cohesive in sound, purpose and overall effect. The balance, achieved by Maestro Mahlay is likewise noticeable in the selected repertoire, spanning the centuries, without favoring a particular era of performance.
The accompanying illustrated color brochure (English only) provides well-edited articles on Ukrainian sacred music and the UBC, as well as a bio of the artistic director, Mr. Mahlay. The recording roster lists all singers, while the Very Rev. Pavlo Bodnarchuk, Ph.D. is the credited liturgy celebrant. No separate timings are given for the selections on disc.
The recording and mix engineer was Orest Sushko; the recording was mixed at Casablanca Sound and Picture in Toronto, and mastered by George Graven at the Lacquer Channel, Toronto. The design and layout was by Taras Lewycky, Optik Nerv, Philadelphia; production was handled by Joe Wood, RDR Music Group; Roman Skypakewych was artistic advisor; and Anatoli W. Murha is listed as executive producer.
During the 1950s one of the most avid supporters of the UBC was noted pianist, educator and author Roman Sawycky, Sr. Publicity for this chorus was most useful, especially before its grand tour of Europe in 1958. My father titled one of his articles in support of the UBC "The Best Ukrainian Ensemble," so it is altogether fitting for this writer to take up the banner almost 50 years later for what continues to be the best Ukrainian ensemble on either side of the Atlantic.
This year the chorus is off to Europe once again for a series of concerts. The ensemble leaves on June 25 for Manchester, where two days later it will sing at the School of Music (equivalent to New York's Juilliard). On June 29 the UBC goes to London to perform a concert and the liturgy. On July 1 the singers travel to the land of Debussy and Ravel to perform at Notre Dame de Paris as well as in the American Cathedral near the Arc de Triomphe. On July 3, it's on to Strasbourg, and on the July 4 the chorus will sing at the American military cemetery at St. Avold, France, the largest American cemetery in Europe, supported by that city.
On July 6 the chorus will repeat the liturgy, this time at the Ukrainian cathedral in Munich, the and next day the UBC will be welcomed in Regensburg as part of an artistic exchange program. The grand tour finale will take place on July 9 in Vienna - the city of Mozart, Beethoven and Mahler.
In conclusion, it should be noted that the UBC has an extensive discography. Their most recent recordings include: "Black Sea Tour," "Ukrainian Steppe" and "A Bandura Christmas," originally published in an LP format in 1960 by conductor and arranger Volodymyr Bozhyk, all now re-mastered and restored.
David Lyman of the Detroit Free Press wrote: "Golden Echoes of Kyiv" combines "elements of the nation's Orthodox and Catholic musical heritages. Much of it has roots in the chants that developed in the earliest days of European Christianity soon after Prince Volodymyr introduced the new faith in 988 AD."
For more information on the chorus, or this CD, visit the website: www.bandura.org or write to: Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus, P.O. Box 12129, Detroit, MI 48212. The price of the CD is $15.
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, June 22, 2003, No. 25, Vol. LXXI
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