SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

* RACHMANINOV: All-Night Vigil – Latvian Radio Choir/ Sigvards Klava – Ondine

************* MULTICHANNEL DISC OF THE MONTH *********** A performance that offers much not usually heard in this fantastic work.

Published on April 19, 2013

* RACHMANINOV: All-Night Vigil, Op. 37 – Latvian Radio Choir/ Sigvards Klava – Ondine multichannel SACD ODE 1206-5, 62:31 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

Ondine gets the title right. Though many English translations of the name of this work appear as Vespers, it is in fact the Russian Orthodox All-Night Vigil, which consists of (mainly) a Saturday evening or great feast service that sticks vespers, matins, and the first hour together contiguously. In this case Rachmaninov sets six texts from vespers, eight from matins, and one from the first hour (prime in the western church). Of these 15, he quotes from actual Orthodox chants in nine of the pieces, and the rest are composed in the “spirit” of this music, so much so that there are Orthodox church people who quote from this work as if the composer’s music was genuinely liturgical chant.

1915 was the year this first appeared, just two years before the fateful and abominable revolution that caused the composer to flee his homeland for good—it was never performed again in the Soviet Union, though many took it up outside of that desperate society. It is a purely choral work, instruments being expressly forbidden in Orthodox Church music, and Rachmaninov worked hard with the head of the Moscow Synodal Choir to make sure the piece conformed to ecclesiastical standards. In point of fact it is far beyond most church choirs in difficulty with the exception of the most accomplished cathedrals, and has found a home in the concert hall. It remained one of the composer’s three favorite works, The Bells and the Symphonic Dances being the other two. In fact, he quotes from Op. 37 in a passage in the Symphonic Dances, the last piece he was to create.

Problems arise from finding basses that can navigate their way around the low B-flats in the piece, and the myth of the Russian bass leads many to believe that only the Russian recordings can solve the issue, as if they grow on trees in Siberia. Not true—any skilled bass worth his salt can figure out how to sing this music, and these Latvian fellows have certainly discovered this. This particular rendition is not the most emotional or the most vigorously projected I have ever heard—Robert Shaw probably fits the latter while Rostropovich and the Washington Choral Society the former. But it is exceptionally silky in its tonal qualities, beautifully—and unhurriedly, as the timing indicates—sung, with some suave and exceptionally spacious surround sound adding to the experience in a way that magnifies the already brilliant choral magnificence of Rachmaninov’s scoring. These 25 singers outdo themselves in a performance of clarity and genuine affection, jettisoning any sense of excessive emotive outbursts in favor of a more controlled and churchly presentation. No matter how many of these you have, this is one you must have.

—Steven Ritter

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