The Boyan Ensemble of Kiev

We were in Bristol yesterday afternoon to hear this remarkable Ukrainian men’s choir as they come to the end of an intensive month’s tour in this country. They have been making annual visits to Britain since 1992 and although once financed by the U.S.S.R. they are now completely reliant on ticket sales and overnight hospitality from their growing number of supporters. They travel by coach and boat rather than by air, to defray costs. This was their 21st concert and with four more to go they finish their punishing tour on Thursday in Hereford. Heard yesterday in the echoing acoustics of Clifton Catholic Cathedral, the dedicated professionalism of their performance was overwhelming, and richly deserved the huge applause when the concert ended.

The first half consisted of unaccompanied liturgical chants, the twenty four members of the choir dressed in black cassocks, some of the items graced by stunning solos from the counter-tenor V.Mitryayev, the soprano B. Ivanenko and the bass V.

Pudchenko amongst others, their voices emerging out of and rising above the harmonic background of sound. That distinctive sound was spine-tingling, evoking the worship of the Eastern Orthodox tradition, and conjuring up the purity and austerity of that branch of the Christian Church, which for so many years has existed without reference to any other part of Christiandom.

In the second half, the choir, now dressed in informal white and embroidered clothes, sang a series of folk songs, some poignant and sad, others funny and endearing. Again the choir, now supported by musical instruments, sang with the utmost precision, clearly enjoying the music as much as we were. The solemn and moving first half now balanced by choir’s delight in showing another facet of their art.

I learn from their website that the Ensemble’s members are drawn from Ukraine’s top professional male choir: the Revutsky State Male Choir based in Kyiv (Kiev).

The ensemble has toured the UK, France, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Luxembourg, Israel and Poland, as well as countries of the former Soviet Union. A tour of Canada and the United States is in their future plans.

They should come to Spain! They would be well received amongst people of very different but equally ancient musical traditions. If the choir was able to enthuse the polite English on a cold Sunday afternoon, they would certainly set alight the more extrovert audience that the Spanish would provide.

Meanwhile here in this country we look forward to their next tour in the hope that we shall be able to hear them again.