Mikhail Zeiger

A Russian Soirée.

13 Feb 2013 Article
By The New York Sun's JAY NORDLINGER, | June 9, 2008

Last week, the Russian Chamber Chorus of New York gave a concert in Weill Recital Hall. Founded in 1984, the RCCNY is billed as "America's preeminent Russian vocal ensemble." To borrow Bill Buckley's formulation, is that like "celebrating the tallest building in Wichita, Kansas"? Not really — there are lots of Russians in America.

Last week's concert was not exactly a choral concert — it was a Russian musicale, or soirée. It was a variety show, bringing choruses, songs, and instrumental music.

The impresario of this event was Nikolai Kachanov, founder and artistic director of the RCCNY. He gave this program a title: "Sunset, Night, Sunrise." And, in a program note, he commented that night shows us "the wide array of feelings, visions, and creative longings in Russian Romanticism."

This nocturnal concert began with a Rachmaninoff prelude for cello and piano. Playing it were Adrian Daurov and Michael Zeiger. Mr. Daurov is a young cellist who looks the part of the Romantic artist — complete with hair falling into his eyes. He produced a warm, sometimes fuzzy, sound, and phrased naturally. Mr. Zeiger is a senior musician who cuts an elegant, Old World figure. He played with maturity and reliability.

Next we had a Rachmaninoff song, one of his most famous: "How Peaceful" (we can say in English). It was sung by a soprano with the pretty name of Hanna Golodinskii, accompanied by Mr. Zeiger. She sang gamely, though I would wager she can sing this song better.

The first choruses on the program were composed by Anton Arensky — one called "To the Dying Stars," and another called "Serenada." These may not be immortal pieces, but they are pleasant, and it was good to hear unfamiliar repertoire. Fourteen members of the RCCNY sang them — not tidily, and not beautifully, but sincerely.

Also sincere was Alexander Kisselev, a bass who sang another famous Rachmaninoff song: "When Silent Night Doth Hold Me." This principal of the Bolshoi Theater has a nice instrument — lightish, unheavy.

Of interest later on the program was Tchaikovsky's "Bedtime Prayer," which Michael Zeiger had arranged for voice, cello, and piano. (Mr. Zeiger was responsible for many such arrangements on the program.) This prayer has a touching, importunate nature.

Following the Tchaikovsky, we heard two choruses by Sergei Taneyev: "Evening" and "Look, What a Haze." Both of these are nifty. And by this time, the RCCNY was about 30 members strong. There is safety in numbers, where quality of sound is concerned — or at least that seemed the case on this concert.

Mr. Zeiger, all alone, played a nocturne by Glinka called "La Séparation." Did you know that Glinka wrote piano music? Neither had I. This lovely nocturne may put you in mind of Chopin, Fauré — Field.

And Mr. Zeiger had arranged Glinka's "Venetian Night" for voice, chorus, cello, and piano. You can practically hear the gondoliers in this piece, and see the Venetian stars. The RCCNY forces were so pleased with their performance of it, they encored it.

This is the way the first half of the program ended. The second half brought more of the same (moving to sunrise). And it featured two composers largely unknown in the West, and perhaps even in Russia: Pavel Krylov (1885-1935) and Vissarion Shebalin (1902-63). The RCCNY's Mr. Kachanov has an obvious love of music and its Russian traditions.

For all the professionals involved in this program, this evening had an air of amateurism about it — and that should not be taken to be as insulting as it may sound. One thought of friends gathering in a parlor. And the RCCNY had many friends in Weill Recital Hall, a good number of them speaking the mother tongue.



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A Russian Soirée.
13 Feb 2013