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Russian basses September 18, 2010

Posted by Judy in Musings.

If you ever have the opportunity to hear a Russian choir, live, go, you won’t be sorry.  I have no idea how or why this happens, but Russian basses are just amazing.  While I was in college, I always heard about the basso profundi that were the Russian basses.  It was said that their voices were THAT much lower and more resonant.  I always thought, “yeah right, people are people are people!”  After I finished grad school, I realized I was oh so wrong.

I had the opportunity to sing Rachmaninoff’s Vespers with an amazing group of musicians.  When we performed the work, we stood in a double “U” formation.  So there were basically two rows of people, and we were in mixed formation (which, IMHO, is the best way to perform choral music).  There is a piece in the work called “”Now Lettest Thou Depart” . . . it became my favorite.  It’s quite beautiful, very slow with a lovely tenor solo and nice contasting loud and soft sections.  The icing on the cake, however is the very end.  The upper voices (soprano, alto, tenor) are holding a note, while the basses sing a very slow descending scale, ending on a low C.  Now, for those of you who know only a wee bit about music . .. low C is L-O-W!  It’s not a note that just anyone can sing.  (As a side, I had a high school student, probably 15 or 16 who had the most amazing low C’s!)  Anyway, so in our little choir, I think only one of the basses actually could sing it, but we was scraping the bottom of the barrel.  If we went even the tiniest big flat, then it just didn’t come out.

So back to our double “U” formation . . . I was lucky enough to get to stand right in front of the one guy that could sing that low C.  And it was glorious!  I couldn’t imagine it getting any better . . . .. until I saw a Russian choir perform the Vespers a year later.  Two words described the performance:

Freaking amazing!

Absolutely beautiful singing, and #5, “Now Lettest Thou Depart” . . . I don’t even have words for it.  Prior to this song, I’d gotten a little foretaste of just how amazing the basses in this choir were, so in my head, I knew I was in for a treat. So I’m sitting on the edge of my seat (I was in the balcony, front row in the corner), and as the song progresses, the hairs on my arm were standing straight up in anticipation.  Even now, as I think about it, I get goosebumps.  So the end comes, the choir is holding the chord and the basses (I think there were only two, making it all the more breath-taking) start singing down the scale.  They get to the low C and EVERY. SINGLE. HAIR on my whole body is standing on end.  I was absolutely blown away by how much sound was filling the auditorium.  You’d think that such a low note would barely be audible.  Well, you’d be wrong.  There was SO. MUCH. SOUND. and it was so incredibly resonant.  It was almost like the two basses were standing just inside of a cave, and the cave was doing all of the projection.  I was just floored.  After that, I didn’t want the concert to go on, I just wanted to sit and be enveloped my the sound forever.  Clearly, that wasn’t an option, but I do think that they just let the silence resound for a while before going on to#6.

During intermission, I zoomed to the bathroom in the lower level (AKA the backstage area) and just happened to walk past one of the basses . . . he was speaking to one of his fellow singers, and I was astounded at how resonant even his speaking voice was.  There has to be something genetic about it . . . they must have thicker and longer vocal folds than most basses.  Whatever it is, it creates an almost unbelievable sound.

So, yes, if ever you are given the chance to hear a Russian choir sing, especially if they are performing Vespers, go.  It’ll be worth every penny.


1. Lita - September 18, 2010

I think it would be great!

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