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Dmitry SMIRNOV (b.1952)
Our Lady’s Rejoicing in Sorrow (2001) [31.22]
Selections from Medieval Russian Vocal Art:-

Rejoices in Thee - Greek Chant, female choir [1.47]
Lo, Triple-Shining Light To Inflame Thee - Znamenny chant arranged for mixed choir [2.20]
It Is Meet – Byzantine chant, male choir [2.11]
Angel Crying – Bulgarian chant, male choir [3.28]
Miracle Great and Most Glorious - concerto for 16 voice mixed choir [2.25]
Lyudmila Shkirtil (mezzo)
Andrey Bolshiyanov (saxophone)
Chamber Choir Lege Artis/Boris Abalian
rec. live in concert, Chamber Music Festival, St Peter and Paul’s Cathedral, St Petersburg, October 2004
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Dmitry Smirnov was pushing fifty when he wrote Our Lady’s Rejoicing in Sorrow and is not to be confused with his better known and similarly named near contemporary Dmitri Smirnov, who was born in 1948 and who now lives in England. Smirnov was born in Leningrad in 1952 and now teaches at the St Petersburg Conservatoire being active as a composer and conductor. He’s written for a wide range of forces – choral often, but also instrumental and film music – as well as a 1985-87 opera called Jerma. But it seems that liturgical music, and a strong spiritual spine, has informed much that he’s written and has continued to write.

Our Lady is a seven movement sacred work – "Choral frescoes" – for female voice, soprano saxophone and a mixed choir. It’s powerfully rooted in Russian liturgical music and yet one feel other obvious crosscurrents that attest to its composer’s awareness of other less obviously traditional musics. The soprano saxophonist, the fine Andrey Bolshiyanov, spends some time shadowing the big voiced mezzo, Lyudmila Shkirtil, adding a plaintive, plangent "other" to her line but in the fourth "mosaic" we find a more urgent sense of onrush and subsequent relaxation. Here Smirnov vests the music with a sense of Renaissance grandeur and spaciousness; warm harmonies underlie his writing, as does a see-sawing between the beneficent and the more dramatic material. In the final movement, the Glorification, we hear the soprano saxophone join the choral texture rather than merely shadowing or commenting upon it, and becomes fused with it. It soars, taking a contemplative and rapturously simple line to the quiet conclusion. An influence on this writing, one suspects, is Jan Garbarek with whose work with the Hilliard Ensemble this one bears some kinship (and not just Officium).

To set Smirnov’s work in some kind of aural and liturgical context it’s prefaced by five selections from the Medieval Russian canon. These range from the purely melodic Greek chant, through the warm, slow, deep sonorities of the Znamenny chant to the tension filled pedal note that drones through the Byzantine chant (excellent high tenors by the way). We can also admire the defiant contrast between the florid female voicings in the concerto for 16 voice mixed choir and the restrained and more sanguine answering male ones.

Fortunately we have texts in Cyrillic and in English translation and can go some way toward perceiving Smirnov’s musical imperatives in his liturgical works. The choir and soloists are very proficient. If you can track it down you will find an essentially traditionally minded composer whose ear for colour and flourish adds palpable depth to his settings.

Jonathan Woolf



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