The second concert of the St. Romanos Melodos I International Composers Competition featured the remaining six winning pieces performed by two choirs: that of the Mikhailovsky Theatre with Vladimir Stolpovskikh, and the St. Petersburg Youth Chamber Choir with Yulia Khutoretskaya. After a short sermon began proceedings, the first half was given over to the winner of the third prize in the ‘Large Form’ category, The Divine Liturgy for Mixed Choir by Dmitry Danilov.

For me, this piece was a touch more daring than any on display the previous evening; there was the occasional modal inflection and a few surprising cadences perhaps suggesting familiarity with recent choral music from Western Europe and the US. That said, the prevalent mode firmly remained traditionalism, and the few non-traditional moments sat uneasily alongside a basic tonal framework with many dominant sevenths and other functional tonal chords. This long, multi-movement piece, however, certainly deserves respect for its ambition and scale. No first prize was awarded in the ‘Large Form’ category, apparently because the jury could not agree on one overall winner.

The various miniatures presented by the Youth Chamber Choir in the second half showed greater variety than heard previously. Ekaterina Chernysheva’s piece made use of a glockenspiel, and Vladimir Belyaev’s had a glockenspiel, some percussion and a piano. The general atmosphere of reverence and sincerity was not challenged, however, although Chernysheva added some sweetness to the equation, with a delicate glockenspiel ostinato. Belyaev’s piece, meanwhile, was rather strident, with a brisk, march-like piano part and snare drum accompaniment, hinting at the more proactive side to the competition’s religious element.

Perhaps the piece which best encapsulated the competition as a whole was Archpriest Kiril Popov’s Come Ye, We’ll Bow. This short anthem was a meticulous composition with a clear sacred purpose, which he conducted himself with much vigour in billowing, priestly sleeves. It was homophonic and harmonically simple, primarily articulating its text and appearing willing to sacrifice musical ambition altogether for its higher purpose. I am sure this piece will find its place in liturgical performance, although I am less sure that it fares well in transfer to the concert hall.

Two pieces by Alexey Zakharov, one of which featured an array of traditional Russian instruments, won prizes in the ‘Miniature’ category. The winning piece here, though, was Alexey Larin’s Calling for the Vigil, and I thought it deserved its prize. Larin combined elements of chant and intonation with a freer approach to harmony than elsewhere in the concert, and he managed both to present his text clearly and to display a degree of well-judged musical imagination.

Read Paul’s first concert review from Russia here.