Thursday 28 February 2013

Divine Liturgy

Alexander Levine
Alexander Levine is a London-based, Russian-born composer who studied both in Russia and in the UK with Gary Carpenter and Simon Bainbridge. His Divine Liturgy is a new setting of the Russian Orthodox liturgy in the tradition of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov. It was premiered in Russia in 2009 by Andrei Petrenko and the Mariinsky Opera Choir, is being performed in London on March 7 at the Priory Church of St Bartholomew the Great, Smithfield, as part of a launch of new recording of the work by Tenebrae, director Nigel Short, being released on Signum Classics label, SIGCD316.

Levine's Divine Liturgy sets the text of the Russian Orthodox liturgy of St John Chrystostom, which will be familiar from the settings by Tchaikovsky and by Rachmaninov. Levine has set the text quite strictly, but has added extra material which would normally be sung by the deacon during the service. The piece was inspired by humility and humanity of the murdered Russian priest (and friend of Levine) Fr. Alexander Men and has a real spiritual core. After its premiere in 2009 it was subsequently performed over the next three years at Valery Gergiev’s Easter Festivals.

The setting includes Greek or Byzantine chant, Medieval polyphony, Renaissance counterpoint, Byzantine chant and poly-chordal texture. Levine has also added fragments of the Russian folk song At the Father’s gate to the Creed. The folk song was used by Leo Tolstoy in War and Peace as a symbol the peasant population in its remarkable resistance to Napoleon’s Army in 1812. Tchaikovsky used the complete quotation of this song in his 1812 Overture. (In fact, Levine wrote the incidental music for a stage version of War and Peace done at the Barbican in 1994)

The work is unaccompanied, as is necessary for any Russian Orthodox liturgical music. Listening to excerpts, the work has clear links to its predecessors whilst retaining also a contemporary edge to the harmony. On March 7, the work will be sung by Tenebrae, director Nigel Short. They have already recorded Levine's Prayers for Mankind: A Symphony of Prayers of Father Alexander Men which is available on Signum Classics.

Further information from the Edition Peters website, tickets for the March 7 concert are available from the St. Martin in the Fields box office.

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