Spotlight Artists Management 2021 Review: Russian Music Masterpieces

Russian Cultural Treasures on Full Display for Cathedral’s Commemoration

By Logan Martell

On November 19, 2021 Spotlight Artists Management presented a concert of beloved Russian works, titled “Russian Musical Masterpieces.”

Held at St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral, this concert marked the beginning of an artistic partnership between the two entities, and came in celebration of the cathedral’s 120th anniversary, as well as the 75th birthday of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The program was suitably opened by the St. Nicholas Cathedral Chamber Choir with “eis polla ete, despota,” a chant used in Eastern Orthodox rites following the blessing of a bishop. As the basses and tenors laid down fluid, reverent tones through the repeating phrases, the entrance of the sopranos and altos quickly washed the texture and room with a full and pious choral sound.

Following this musical invocation were several pieces from Tchaikovsky. First among them was a piano duet of his “Waltz of the Flowers” from “The Nutcracker,” played by Nikita Stepanenko and Raina Wang. The two were in fine sync as they filled out the lush introduction which transitioned easily into the lighthearted waltz rhythm of the main section.

Next was Lensky’s aria from “Eugene Onegin,” sung by Pavel Suliandziga. His crisp tenor was soon underscored by a vulnerable diminuendo as he related the poet’s approaching end with both passionate and reflective qualities on display. This crestfallen energy carried even through the unaccompanied measures, and the two rejoined to build towards a touching and soulful conclusion.

Later in the program he sang the serenade “Oh child, beneath your window,” written by Tchaikovsky, with words by Grand Duke Konstantin Romanov. Suliandziga carried this number with great vocal warmth through the jauntier accompaniment.

The next few selections were from Tchaikovsky’s “The Queen of Spades.”  Tenor Mikhail Urusov sang Herman’s two ariosos, “I don’t even know her name,” and “Forgive me, celestial creature.” Through these numbers, Urusov displayed remarkable vocal strength and flexibility, with his more conversational phrases flowing into a height that easily filled the room with his robust sound. Despite this power, the way he ended the pieces with a poignant, almost raw, grit showed he had more qualities with which to capture the audience’s attention.

Next was the “Duet of Lisa and Polina,” sung by soprano Zoya Gramagin, and mezzo-soprano Eugenia Forteza. This brief number carried with a lighthearted rhythm matched by the ease of Gramagin and Forteza’s phrases as they outlined the beauty of the evening countryside.

These idyllic feelings were soon underscored with Forteza’s rendition of “Polina’s Romance,” where the dismal, repeating chords of the accompaniment were fittingly joined by the tragic, lyrical quality she used in relating her own tale of love gone wrong.

Last from “The Queen of Spades” was “Lisa’s Arioso,” sung by Gramagin. The rapid accompaniment and its repeating figures were quickly taken up with urgency by Gramagin. While she employed a soaring vocality that finely conveyed Lisa’s despair and concerns, Gramagin took it even further with a frantic, ruinous cry that was both dramatically appropriate and mesmerizing.

From Rachmaninoff, there was “Prelude Op. 2 No. 2,” played by pianist Alexander Chaplinsky. He drew upon a wide range of lush tones as he balanced the running left hand with the chordal attacks in the right. There was also Rachmaninoff’s “Etude Tableus Op. 22 #6,” played with flair and skillful execution by Nikita Stepanenko.

The penultimate number was Tchaikovsky’s lied “Whether Day Dawns,” with words by Aleksey Apukhtin. Here, Gramagin indulged in the consummate love described in the text with both affection and sonority.

The concert was brought to an end with “Mnohaya lita,” or “Many Years!” sung by the St. Nicholas Cathedral Chamber Chorus. Based on the “eis polla ete” which opened the program, this number is a traditional Ukrainian song which wonderfully concluded the evening while paying tribute to the liturgical roots of operatic and classical music.

Friday’s concert achieved much in sharing some of Russia’s greatest cultural treasures, and it will be very interesting to see how Spotlight Artists Management will continue to present these works in their upcoming endeavors.

“This program was our soft introduction to the bigger project we are launching now: Russian Opera Society,” said SAM Co-Founder Natalie Burlutskaya. “We plan to showcase Russian music in concert, staged, or semi-staged versions and curate special programs to promote culture of other peoples and countries, in the light of similar historic or cultural events and heritage. We invite you all to our next concert on December 15!”


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