RACHMANINOFF: All-Night Vigil – Phoenix Chorale/ Kansas City Chorale/ Charles Bruffy – Chandos multichannel SACD CHSA 5148, 75:34 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:
This is easily the best-sounding of all Rachmaninoff Vigils that I have heard, and there are a number of them out there now that are well worth consideration by all who love this music. However, this is also easily the longest recording I have ever heard, and not by a nose either. Of the four other copies I have deemed worthy of permanent residence in my collection, that of Robert Shaw is the closest in length, but Bruffy tops him by a full ten minutes! Of the remaining recordings—and please note that I am not of the school that insists on a Russian recording to ensure complete authenticity—the best, and also in surround sound, is the Klava reading with the wonderful Latvian Radio Choir on Ondine, clocking in at 62:31. Mr. Sunier gave a rave back in 2005 to the Hillier recording and that one was only 54 minutes, making it a full 20 minutes faster than Bruffy, which is astounding. Kaspars Putnins made a beautiful recording with the brilliant Netherlands Radio Choir at 60 minutes, while the most idiomatic of all—though 27 years old—is Rostropovich with the Choral Arts Society of Washington, still the one to hear if you want to hear it as it was meant to be heard.
Bruffy and his amazing forces have yet to release a recording that I haven’t loved, and this one is no exception. But—and it is a big one—not everyone will be convinced by the philosophical premise inherent in the choice of tempos. The piece is quite literally a hash of done-every-week hymns found in the Vespers, Matins, and First Hour services of the Orthodox Church, rendered in many Russian churches (concatenated) every Saturday evening. So the basis is something in real time, a true liturgical collection with extra-liturgical nuances. The music is drawn from ancient chants of the Russian church—ten of them anyway—while the remaining five are creations of the composer, albeit in a style that is remarkably consistent with the nature and tone of the “real” chants.
The result of this is a presentation not suitable for liturgical purposes—and quite frankly there are few church choirs in the world that could handle this piece—but instead an exploration, almost an autopsy of the guts this work with the intent of milking every potential moment for the maximum emotional, and yes, mystical effect. Those who like sitting back in surround sound euphoria while letting the aural beauties soar above will love this experience. And I must confess that it is not like Bruffy is finding things not there even in seed form—it’s all present, just waiting for the right interpreter, and Bruffy seems to be the one. The power of the sound is overwhelming, the choruses outstanding, and those longing for a luscious sonic experience will find heaven here. Those wanting a little grittier and realistic outing will need to check out one of the above-mentioned recordings