Friday, December 16, 2011

Red Army!

One of the few benefits I enjoy living in a house intended for tourist rental is that I have British television via satellite installed.  I wouldn’t have done it for myself.  I lived the first eight years in Spain watching only Catalan television.  But since it’s here, I do watch it and there are definitely some broadcasts that are excellent.

One of those excellent broadcasts was on BBC3 radio recently.  I tuned in planning to listen to classical music while I read, but the host and his guests were talking.  About to turn it off, I realized that they were talking about the Red Army Chorus.

I grew up with the Red Army Chorus.  That is to say, my parents had one of their albums and it was always one of my favorites.  My parents’ musical taste tended towards the Russian and Eastern European, no wonder as they were Eastern European themselves.  We had recordings of Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Rimsky Korsakov, Borodin, a lot of Chopin, the Red Army Chorus, and Les Paul and Mary Ford.  (Although they tended to classical and Eastern European, they did (my father especially) have eclectic taste.)

It’s hard to say which of the songs on our Red Army Chorus disk I liked the best.  They were all wonderful, not only the songs and the music, but the voices.  The bass solos were extraordinary, the tenor solos lifted you to the sky, and the whole chorus could move you to tears.

Perhaps one song stood out for its emotional quality.  I never paid attention to what the song was about.  For me all these songs were just beautiful music.  But on the BBC they were talking about more than just pretty music.  This song, the penultimate on our old disk, called Ukrainian Poem, is about the German occupation of the Ukraine in 1942 and its eventual liberation by the Soviet army.  When you know that, the song becomes even more powerful.

The Red Army Chorus (and band, and dancers) were (and perhaps still are) made up of members of the armed forces.  They originally performed folk and war songs for the troops.  Eventually they began to tour the world and broadened their repertoire.  In 1948 they were invited by the international forces in Berlin to perform at a concert devoted to peace.  Thirty thousand people came to stand and listen for three hours.  They can be heard performing It’s a Long Way to Tipperary in the movie Das Boot.

The Red Army Chorus (called the Soviet Army Chorus) on this disk, has had several names and is now called the Alexandrov Ensemble.  Whatever you call them or however they choose to call themselves, I think they are one of the great musical groups of all time.  There are other disks, MP3 tracks, and also a DVD with the chorus and dance troop.  I haven't seen the DVD yet, but it is in my shop and on my personal wishlist.

As with other of my favorites, you can buy the disk in my Amazon shop or use my portal to enter Amazon and buy thousands of other things.  Thanks, by the way, to those who did exactly that last week. 

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