ALBUM: FRONTIERS / RITES OF PASSAGE: The Choral Music of David F Golightly
ARTIST: The Soglasie Male Voice Choir of St Petersburg

Review by Rob Barnett on MusicWeb-International (June 2006)

The English composer David Golightly studied music in Huddersfield with Richard Steinitz. Born in Co Durham and now based in the Wear Valley, in the North-East. A career as a freelance commercial orchestrator included making the arrangements used by the Latvian soprano Inessa Galante in her Campion CDs. His music is well worth watching out for as was well and truly announced some five years ago with the issue of his First Symphony (see review).

This is the second all-Golightly disc. It concentrates on his music for male voice chorus topped up with other people's arrangements of fourteen Russian folksongs.

Golightly's two groups of songs explore the poignant melancholy of Alexander Pushkin in Rites of Passage. He is here in the same territory as two twentieth century Russian masters who have set Pushkin for chorus: Georgy Sviridov and Boris Tchaikovsky. As for Golightly's other work featured here not all that long ago it would have been unthinkable for a Russian choir to have recorded or even sung a sequence of American folksongs (mostly of 'cowboy' origin). Frontiers includes such Western favourites as The Chisholm Trail, Shenandoah and The Streets of Laredo - songs also used to glowing effect in Roy Harris's unbuttoned Symphony No. 4 Folksong recently recorded by Marin Alsop for Naxos.

In the two Golightly sequences the stride and shaping of each song apart from Shenandoah is aided and enriched by the assertively recorded piano of Dmitri Tepliakov.

Golightly's style is exuberant and forward, emotional and exciting. He knows the human voice well and I suspect was delighted to be able to write for a fully professional choir, as here. In fact some of this reminded me of another British composer, the late Geoffrey Bush.

The Pushkin songs, setting translations into English by Henry Jones, are sung and recorded with a warmth the emotional and calorific value of which will thaw the coldest heart and hands. The choir must have been very close up to the microphones which caused my headphones some stress in several fortissimo passages. There is a striking gauntness and iron-bell stoniness about the final song Elegy. The accent of the soloist is quite thick in The Singer so the words cannot always be picked out. You hear the same thing in the five American folk songs of Frontiers. Still it compares nicely with the sometimes cheesy collegiate brilliance of Stokowski's recording of the Roy Harris Folksong symphony (was the choir any better on the Abravanel EMI Angel recording - it never made it to CD). These are settings with blood coursing through the veins. The choir make a specially telling effect in Shenandoah and they do so without succumbing to the many invitations to sentimentality. Superb stuff ... and my do you hear the Russian bass resonance! The pace of The Streets of Laredo is surprisingly leisurely when compared with the Roy Harris - much more elegiac but with a skip in the step. It works well! The setting of John Hardy is vehemently and grippingly lively.

We now leave Golightly for some arrangements of Russian folksongs by Alexander Sveshnikov - a name well known as the great conductor of the reference Melodiya recording of Rachmaninov's Vespers - and by Govorov, Bogdanov, Schwartz and Nikitin. These are shot through with vibrancy. The boozy humour and flighty lightheartedness is carried off to perfection in the triumphantly virtuosic Along the Piterskaya Street with much interplay between the choir and bass Gennadi Martemianov. The melancholy dreaminess of the suave The Bell is Jingling (surely that should be ringing) monotonously makes an unconscious connection with Negro spirituals. The echoes of Russian orthodox chant can be heard in full glory in Oh you are so broad the steppe. The snowdrifts melt is driven by the fast clip-clop of the woodblock. Familiar friends include the Song of the Volga boatmen here rendered as Volga hardworkers. Typically Russian is the lugubrious The steppe is all around with basso profundo Vladimir Chechnev taking the solo. The masculine roughened precision of What's your song about you gilded bee is well worth sampling. The floated gold of Igor Vozny's bel canto tenor is buoyantly sustained above the slow-rung bell evocations of Those evening bells. Kalinka, with its slowings and accelerations, is familiar and a pleasure to hear again.

The words for the Golightly songs are printed in full. Each of the folksongs is described in the booklet through a synopsis rather than a full text. They are sung in Russian. All the others on this CD are sung in English.

The print may be on the small side but the words of all the songs are printed in the booklet. A pity though that the playing times of each piece and of the whole disc is not given anywhere. The first disc which offered the First Symphony, a work which shows the influence of Shostakovich, was stunningly well-recorded and a CD of the Second Symphony is much anticipated. I hope that we will not have to wait long.

Glorious Slav male voices compromised somewhat by distortion when the signal is under pressure of this typically intense Russian singing.

Rob Barnett

This page was last updated on 24 June, 2006