Since its formation in 1977, the Saint Petersburg Chamber Choir has emerged as the leading exponent of Russian choral literature, a body of work that uncannily echos Slavic gloom and hope for spiritual deliverance. Through a series of recent CDs (on Philips), most of them featuring the Siberian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky, the 40-member a cappella chorus introduced to the West a style of Russian church music that pays homage to the centuries-old Eastern Orthodox chants while incorporating secular, romantic elements. Two fine examples of this approach (which prevailed from 1850 to 1950, when Soviet jingoists finally seized much of the country’s “official” music) are Rachmaninoff’s Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and All-Night Vigil–large-scale, vocally demanding compositions dating from 1910 that were deemed insufficiently respectful of liturgical texts by the church hierarchy. Musically these pieces are lush, impassioned thanksgivings and entreaties, often the unburdening of the collective soul of peasants–and not at all the florid bombast we associate with the composer’s piano concerti. Many of the sections in Vigil, which are all sung in Church Slavonic, are based on chant melodies, prayerful and lyrical in disposition. In its Orchestra Hall debut–a stop on its CD-hyping American tour–the choir will perform excerpts from both works as well as an assortment of pieces in a similar vein by Rachmaninoff’s lesser and lesser-known contemporaries, such as the Bulgarian conductor D.I. Christov and Bolshoy Theatre choir director Pavel Chesnokov. Under the direction of founder Nikolai Korniev and prominent Russian orchestra maestros, the neatly balanced and vocally gifted choir has also popularized celebrated masterpieces from the western European classical canon back in Russia. But its forte is conveying the emotional fervor and pious sobriety of persevering peasants during work and worship. Hvorostovsky, whose limpid and husky baritone can be just as ardent in nonoperatic singing, is on hand for the solo passages. Sunday, 3 PM, Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Dmitri Hvorostovsky photo by Eric Robert.