"The State Chamber Choir of the USSR Ministry of Culture under Valeri Polyansky..." Playbills announcing its concerts are quick to attract all music-lovers. In the 17 years of its existence the choir has won fervent admirers among the Soviet public and abroad. Regardless of the size of its audiences its concerts always gather full houses. It has also won high authority among the strictest of critics. No wonder their reviews always abound in remarks as "a revelation", "musical fête" ...
The choir has also won wide acclaim in the international scene. Its first concerts abroad— Italy, 1975—brought triumphal success. The highly representative international competition of polyphonic choruses—Guido d'Arezzo brought the Soviet performers three high awards. One of them was a special prize to Valeri Polyansky as the best conductor of the event. He was only twenty-six at the time. In its enthusiastic reviews the Italian press called Polyansky "... a young conductor with a giftedness that can be expected of the greatest masters". The company's concerts in the FRG, Finland, Turkey, Poland and Czechoslovakia enhanced its reputation. "A superb choir with a flawless intonation and exquisitely balanced sound", "an ensemble of singers capable of mastering works of every style and complexity"—such were the appraisals of foreign critics. The day when the company performed at the festival "Prague's Spring" the "Concerto for Chorus" by the Soviet composer Alfred Shnitke was qualified by the press as the festival's "hour of glory".
The choir founded by Valeri Polyansky came into existence on December 1, 1971. That was the day of its first concert. Its singers and director were still students of the Moscow Conservatoire where Polyansky was qualifying both as chorus conductor and opera and symphony conductor. Both specialities have been realized in his practical work. He was a student when he took up the conductor's baton at the Moscow Musical Comedy Theatre where he spent seven successful years. Then, having passed a difficult test, he filled the vacancy of opera conductor at the Bolshoi Theatre. In the succeeding four years he mastered the theatre's entire repertoire.
Yet all this time Polyansky continued to work with the choir he had founded.
The collective's programme is noted for its wide scope of interest. Its regular performances include an extensive repertoire embracing composers of many centuries, among them Antonio Vivaldi, Dietrich Buxtehude, Josquin Des Prés, Orlando di Lasso, Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Maurice Ravel, Benjamin Britten.
A special place, however, belongs to the masterpieces of Russia. By its interpretation of the country's musical heritage the choir brings to life a peculiar Russian chorus anthology that goes back to the vocal art of Old Russia.
Well-known Soviet composers regularly contribute to the singers' repertoire dedicating their new works to Polyansky's collective. Such are the poetic cycle "The Seasons" by Roman Ledenev, Nikolai Sidelnikov's cantatas "Cherished Talks" to Russian folklore texts and "Romancero of Love and Death" to verses by Garcia Lorca, and a cycle of choruses to verses by the 13th century Chinese poet Du Fu. Alfred Schnittke writes all his chorus music for this collective.
The choir usually gives a capella concerts but does not confine itself to this style alone. It is no less proficient in monumental vocal-symphonic music of the most diverse genre. The collective enjoys creative contacts with many outstanding Soviet orchestras and first of all with the orchestra under the remarkable Soviet conductor Gennadi Rozhdestvensky. Their joint repertoire includes; Requiem and Masses by Bruckner, Masses by Mozart and Stravinsky, the Second and Fourth Symphonies for Chorus and Orchestra by Schnittke, and even concert versions of the operas "Yevgeny Onegin" by Tchaikovsky, "Le Portrait de Manon" by Massenet, "The Little Prince" by the Soviet composer Knipper...
In the Soviet Union Polyansky's Choir ranks among ensembles with a highly prolific concert programme. Apart from this it devotes much of its time and energy to music recording. This sphere of activity embraces not only its own concert repertoire but also programmes intended solely for recording.
The collective has just finished recording 35 Choral Concertos by the outstanding 17th century Russian composer Dmitri Bortnyansky at the Melodia firm. The significance of the composer's work for Russian musical culture is tantamount to that of Mikhail Lomonosov for Russian Science. The foundations he laid were later developed by Glinka, Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov... The recording of 35 concertos by Bortnyansky made for the first time is a feat for the art. Of the contemplated seven disks two have already come out. What makes this event still more unique is that the recordings were made in the old Russian towns Smolensk and Polotsk, precisely in their centuries-old Assumption and St. Sophia Cathedrals with their unmatched acoustics.
There the choir also recorded Tchaikovsky's choral music, Schnittke's "Concerto for Chorus", and disks "Russian Sacred Choral Music" and "Vespers" by Rachmaninov with the Bolshoi opera star Irina Arkhipova as a soloist.
The group's recordings are many and varied, Compact-disks and records brought out in France, Japan, Canada and Austria have met with an enthusiastic response on the part of music lovers. In 1978 the disk "Choral Concertos by D. Bortnyansky" was acknowledged as Japan's Record of the Year.