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Soloists: Agnese Pauniņa, soprano (6, 8); Dace Strautmane, Inga Žilinska & Inga Martinsone, alto (6); Ilze Konovalova, alto (7); Kārlis Rūtentāls, tenor (6); Jānis Kurševs, tenor (7); Gundars Dziļums, baritone (6); Pēteris Vaickovskis, bass (6) Ieva Šablovska, harp (5)

“By selecting creative artists who lived in constant opposition to the powers that be – Schnittke, Rachmaninov, Pasternak, St Silouan and Brodsky – I express my respect for these exemplary cultural ‘martyrs’ who devoted themselves on principle to what was true and valid with an aversion to the hypocrisy of their time. Akhmadulina’s poetry is included because, despite her being somewhat popular with the ruling powers, she openly advocated for Brodsky’s liberation, with some success. “Despite the fact that the lives of these artists were thus sullied by intimidation, prohibition of publication or performance as with Pasternak or Schnittke, or led to self-imposed exile as with Rachmaninov somewhat similarly to St Silouan, or even resulted in destruction, detention and deportation as with Brodsky, they remained almost religiously faithful to their courageous convictions. “Transformed to our actualities, my concept of an album with sacred theme has therefore evolved from a mere music collection on canonical and praise texts. “I see this creation as a stimulus to propagate the acquired individual inner ethics and honesty together with the spiritual theme for a broader audience whose beliefs may lie beyond the tradition of the Christian faith but who remain genuinely spiritual and also love choral music.” – Alfred Momotenko

There is a wealth of sacred choral music that has been created over the centuries. However, more is always needed. People, countries and ideologies change, and sacred music takes new forms. The life and works of Alfred Momotenko-Levitsky demonstrate this clearly and convincingly. Alfred Momotenko was born in Lviv in what was then the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in the Soviet Union in 1970. He studied at the Sochi College of Arts and went on to study percussion at the Moscow State University of Culture and Art, both in the Russian Federation in the Soviet Union. In 1990, the political situation having changed, he was invited to perform in the Netherlands. This led to him enrolling at the Brabant Conservatory to major in percussion in improvised music. Having graduated, he entered Fontys Conservatory to study music theory and composition (contemporary classical music). He also studied sonology at the Royal Conservatory in the Hague. The impression one gets is of a path marked by a strong purposefulness and individuality. Today, it seems appropriate to describe him as a Dutch composer. He is a contemporary artist with a wide range of interests and activities, his composition output including pieces as diverse as a piano duet, an orchestral work, a piece for three organs, music for music robots, choral miniatures, and so on. Many of his choral works could be described as poems or chants – larger than a miniature but less extensive than a fantasy, a narrative, a ballad or a story. The very first track on this album – Angelov Tvorche (Creator of Angels), a setting of Bella Akhmadulina (1937–2010) – is typical in this regard. It is a reflection, a sort of essay on a specific topic. The composer wrote: “In terms of sound, in Angelov Tvorche there are two contrasting musical languages: the ancient, pristine Znamennyj Chant and the modern one – as a reflection of the contact and union of Church Slavonic and contemporary lexicon in the poetry of Bella Akhmadulina, underlining a deeply personal tone, turning to the 6 Almighty.” In fact, the coexistence of these two aspects is represented throughout this album, being a constant and consistent feature of the composer’s style. In this piece, the original text is not used sequentially and continuously; instead, the composer selected individual lines from what is a relatively lengthy poem to create a dense, concentrated text. In the music, there is no sharp contrast between the aforementioned two styles, which appear both sequentially and simultaneously, creating a new sound. The music also flows in a free, natural rhythm, with frequent time signature changes and pauses creating a fluidly uneven sense of meter. The above is followed by Three Sacred Hymns, a companion piece to the eponymous composition by Alfred Schnittke (1934–1998), completed in 1984. This composition concerns the most essential, significant episodes and persons in the life of Christ: Our Lady as the addressee of the first hymn, Bogoroditse Devo, radujsia (Ave Maria); Jesus as the addressee of prayer Iisusowa molitwa / O Lord, Jesus Christ; and the Lord’s Prayer Otche nash (Our Father) as the daily bread of faith. Paul Cook wrote of Schnittke’s setting: “Schnittke’s polystylistic approach to music works extraordinarily well, since he has always brought a strong sense of architecture to his writing.” In a nod to his senior colleague, Momotenko structured his setting in exactly the same way, closely following the text (based on three well-known liturgic Orthodox prayers). In musical terms, an archaic feel (perfect fifths and slow tempo) combines with a contemporary idiom in close interaction. Something a bit different can be found in Koliskova (Колискова / Wiegelied / Lullaby) for female voices and harp. The composer himself wrote text in Ukrainian, Russian and Dutch, and the dedication reads mami / mame / voor moeder. This is music of memories, farewell and sadness; a delicate but freely conceived piece evoking the wind, circling birds, the sky and flight. 7 Na Strastnoy (On the Passion) (epopee for mixed choir, 2017), based on the eponymous poem from the novel Doktor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak (1890–1960), is another companion piece, this one to the All-Night Vigil of Sergey Rachmaninov (1873–1943). This is one of the brightest and most expansive poems in the poem collection from the novel, ranging from playful bird sounds to feelings of awakening and rebirth. The composer offers titles for the ten scenes in the piece: 1) In the starlight of psalm-chanting 2) Eorþe in unclothing 3) Hwíl neah a wudu cirice* 4) In the embrace of fright 5) Do you descry? 6) We – blackly-black motion… 7) She rises, sadness relegating! 8) Granting – Human 9) Psalms of dawn lights 10) Resurrection. (* in Old English) Tayna Molchanya (Mystery of Silence) is a setting of a selection of spiritual poetry by St. Silouan the Athonite (1866–1938). It is a bit like a ritual, a theatrical scene, a genre sketch: according to the composer, the crowd “is very curious, wishes to discover a lot and is therefore asking many facts in front of an icon of Mary”. There is a constant musical variation going on with the refrain “Tell, tell”... But ultimately: “You did not want to entrust it all to Holy Writ but covered your secret with silence.” Miracle, a setting of a text by Joseph Brodsky (1940–1996) in the English version by Richard Wilbur, I would say is another companion piece – to the Mystery. “For a miracle, take one shepherd’s sheepskin, throw in a pinch of now, a grain of long ago, and a handful of tomorrow.” It is marvellous and miraculous: light, fantastic, unusual and not of this world. Musically, it appears freer and more contemporary, dominated by wide, spacious intervals. The conclusion, however, is just a simple fourth, as a ‘symbol of the earth’. Jānis Torgāns