Review: Gala concert of the mixed chamber choir St Kliment Ohridski under the baton of Panche Josifov

On the Eve of the great Christian holiday St Clement of Ohrid, within the Ohrid Summer Festival in the St Sophia church there was a concert of the chamber mixed choir “Sv. Kliment Ohridski” under the baton of maestro Panche Josifov.

We experience this music event as a multi-significant happening of equal importance in the sphere of art and in spirituality as part of our century-long Orthodox tradition. Undoubtedly, the performance of art pieces by Macedonian and international authors, close to the Orthodox church singing like we had the honour to hear at the concert of the choir “Sv. Kliment Ohridski” is a dignified event to pay tribute to the Patron of the Macedonian Orthodox Church and the protector of the city of Ohrid, St Clement of Ohrid. Due to the fact that the deeds of St Clement of Ohrid possess humane, educational, and philological and above all, spiritual dimension, they have a priceless cultural value for the people of Macedonia. Besides that, filling the acoustic space of the St Sophia church with a gracious sound of a church choir is the most appropriate way to show special respect towards this ancient temple of ours, which has been home to music artists from around the world for sixty-two summers.

The work of the “Sv Kliment Ohridski” choir is connected to the Archbishop church of St Clement of Ohrid in Skopje. Since 1992, upon its foundation, it has had regular participation in the Sunday and holiday masses, concert performances in the church, but also a very successful concert activity at many venues in Macedonia and abroad. The choir is a unique artistic creation with a special significance for the liturgy masses of our church and Orthodox believers, but also enriching the whole artistic trends of the culture in Macedonia. The ensemble gives a special significance to the performances at Ohrid Summer Festival, its sixth this year, paying tribute to our saint St Clement of Ohrid.

On that occasion, maestro Panche Josifov and the choir members chose a programme concept, a marvellous collage consisting of pieces by Macedonian contemporary composers Kiril Makedonski and Tomislav Zografski, the Serbian composer Stevan Mokranjac, the Russian authors, Aleksander Archangelsky, Dmitriy Bortnjansky, Aleksey Lvov, Georgiy Svidorov, Sergey Rachmaninoff, as well as Atanas Badev, one of the first Macedonian educated composers from the 19th century. The style of the whole repertoire emerges from the tradition of the polyphonic Russian church singing from Romanticism. It’s an aesthetic aiming at reaching the closest to what we can call holy harmony. A sound compactness, possible only through the colour of a topmost vocal ensemble, as the choir “Sv Kliment Ohridski”. Starting with the Hymn of St Clement of Ohrid by Kiril Makedonski, performed in a gala manner, we went on a carefully organized programme journey, led by the choir members and maestro Josifov. It was a pleasure to hear how in every synchronized-in-genre songs the artists showed certain characteristics, keeping the excitement at the audience attending the concert in a single breath. In the perfect “Tebe Pojem” by Mokranjac,  the sound of the choir filled the arches of the church with a glorious calmness which gradually turned into powerful sound culminations (“Rejoice, virgin mother of God” and “V Molitvakh Neusypayushchuyu” by Rachmaninoff, “Strannoe rozdenstvo” by Svodorov). The performance of the choir “Sv Kliment Ohridski” gives the impression of a complex community in which preparation pure intonation, clear diction and dynamic graduations are tidily tuned.

The high individual technical qualities of each ensemble member (by the way, all vocalists are excellent professional artists) and the maximum dedication at shaping the tiniest details in interpretation, made a crystally clear interpretation with firm unison in their tone emission. The soloists Biljana Josifov, Lidija Pshenko, Dejan Stoev, Neven Siljanovski with their voice performances enriched the already strong energy of the choir ensemble. In the composition Siyaniem by Tomislav Zografski we could hear the warm baritone colour of Neven Siljanovski, and the soprano Biljana Josifov, with her voluminous voice, sparkled in the song “Tebe pojem” by Sergey Rachmaninoff and caused an obvious delight among the numerous audiences in St Sophia.

However, the prominently individual trace of the choir is a product of the conductor, maestro Panche Josifov. Through the sound creation, one can sense the rich musicality of the leader. He shows a detailed sense for delicate dynamic leadership of the melody phrases throughout the voices and convincing knowledge of vocal technique. The suitably osed open and closed vocals, shaped according to the intensity and character of the melody and harmonious syllable, point out that the conductor perfectly masters the style of church singing, but also possesses a nice artistic taete.

The wide spectrum of dynamic nuances and very subtle pianissimos, carefully led crescendos to thunderous fortissimos in the vocal mass of the choir “Sv Kliment Ohridski” created a tremble and emotion that the audience could really sense. Such a vibration can only be experienced with powerful choir performance. We had the feeling of an eruptive echo from a sixteen-voice ensemble. Finally, a well-shaped human voice is the most perfect musical instrument.

Vikica Kostoska Peneva