Boyan Ensemble of Kiev

Boyan Ensemble of Kiev on exciting form at Tavistock Church (review)

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Music has that wonderful ability to transcend political oppression, and indeed, in the case of the Boyan Ensemble, to crank up the emotions, particularly in the second half of this highly-enjoyable concert, when the singers featured folk music from their native Ukraine.

The first half is always given over to sacred chants of the Orthodox Church, and, as on previous visits, the ensemble kept to their eerie and spine-tingling opening gambit of progressing from the rear of the church, to minimal candle light and summoned by a tolling bell, before taking up their position at the front, suitably clad in monks’ black habit.

The excellent acoustic truly enhanced the choir’s dynamic range, from ear-splitting fortissimos to hushed pianissimos, and gave added resonance to the unimaginably low notes from the basses, all under the inspired direction of Volodymyr Kuratch.

An appropriate costume change to Cossack dress saw the choir not surprisingly on its most exciting form, playing on the humour, pathos, and characterisation of a wide range of folk songs, with the sound of the lira and bandura adding flavour to the ensemble.

Guest-soprano Viktoria Zabolotska was on superb form throughout, with great support from some equally outstanding solo voices from the choir.

If only the choir could adopt an overall policy about the use of scores in performance, this would surely put the extra cream on the borscht.

PHILIP R BUTTALL