A concert given in St. Patrick’s, Patterdale, Cumbria, of Russian liturgical and secular music performed by four young musicians from the St Petersburg Conservatory who sung in the choir of the Konevets Monastery on the island of Konevets on Lake Ladoga. The Konevets Quartet sing unaccompanied and maintain tuning at the start of each piece by striking a tuning fork (which is inaudible to the audience).

Their programme at Patterdale started with ten liturgical pieces, each quite short and from Gregorian, Serbian, Greek and Armenian traditions, both liturgical and musical. The basic musical scale is the same as the Western scale but the harmonies and rhythms are unfamiliar. It’s a different evolution than Plainsong but from the same common musical ancestry.

As the setting rays of the sun streamed through the stained glass of the West window of St. Patrick’s, Patterdale, the Konevets Quartet’s mainly unison singing evoked more ancient religious orders than twenty-first century Anglicanism. The lead mines of Cumbria were worked by the Romans, some of whom would have been Christians. The churchyard at Patterdale has a stump of a Yew tree which ha been dated to third or fourth century AD, ie Roman. We could imagine music not dissimilar to this "Plainsong" singing might have been heard at religious gatherings in those times.

The sun dipped below the line of the fells of Striding Ridge above Patterdale and Glenridding; for the second part of their concert, the Konevets Quartet gave us a selection of Russian and Ukrainian folk songs and carols.  The character of their recital changed from the slightly austere liturgical texts, though the more celebratory carols and on to more repertoire of more familiar styles, a lullaby, Russian folk songs and a song about Mother forest and the tress. It was joy to hear the group singing counterpoint and harmony with such clarity, control and precision. The singers took turns to lead the group with the other voices humming the accompanying and joining in the words of the chorus.

Interspersed with some soldiers’ songs which might, these days, be sung in the back of a bus or at a drinking session but which in former days would have been marching songs. The Konevets Quartet’s performances were very detailed with a lot more control than a group of soldiers fuelled by vodka or beer and singing competitively their various regimental songs on a Saturday night. The image evoked by The Konevets Quartet was appropriate for the Patterdale audience, who applauded heartily. The Konevets Quartet responded with a jazz arrangement of Baa, Baa, Black Sheep. I guess they must have been reminded of this by the cute day-old lambs in the field just outside St Patrick’s, Patterdale.

The Konevets Quartet:
Oleg Palkin, baritone
Maksim Mostovoy, 1st tenor
Sergey Svoysky, 2nd tenor
Igor Dmitriev, bass, director