Varied Debut by Chorovaya Akademia

In its first visit to Los Angeles, Chorovaya Akademia seemed intent on representing every image ever projected of Russian all-male choirs.

For devotees of Orthodox liturgy among audience members in the Wadsworth Theater on Tuesday, the 15 trained musicians donned formal red and gold caftans to sing religious works. They selected some rooted in chant tradition; all were rigorously conservative in harmonic style and declamatory treatment of text.

Nevertheless, the choices--most by major Russian composers of church music, Degtiarev, Shvedov, Izvekov, Bortniansky, whose names remain far from familiar here--conveyed a compelling mixture of power and mystery. The singers' exacting unity and precise sectional balance intensified these qualities.

For those who think of earthy men of the steppes when they think of Russian male singers, the a cappella group--now in formal concert attire--presented humorous and suggestive folk songs, in spirited arrangements by artistic director Alexander Sedov. Victor Bobrov used his secure if modest baritone for an acutely expressive performance of "The Young Maiden Walked Through the Pine Woods." Ties to nature and to a land inhabited by magical spirits surfaced in Taneyev's "Apparitions," Opus 35, here rhythmically buoyant and dynamically detailed.

Finally, secular art music, tied to the West but retaining an Eastern flavor, found eloquent representation in Tchaikovsky's "Why Has the Voice of Mirth Grown Silent," which uses poetry by Pushkin.

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