RACHMANINOV: Vespers – Netherlands Radio Choir/ Kaspars Putnins – BIS multichannel SACD 2039, 60:20 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

Recently I gave five thumbs-up to the Latvian Radio Choir’s performance of this demanding and much-loved work, one which has suffered brilliant and terrible performances over the years, and also gets pegged into the idea that only Slavic singers can properly do justice to the work—which is nonsense.

Then along comes the Netherlands Radio Choir to add their own take to this work, equally as adept and finely-honed, not to say big-boned—which it is—that proves the point. The best recordings these days are coming from all over the world, proving that Rachmaninov is as universally beloved in non-Slavic countries as Gershwin is in Russia. 

This is a wide, beautifully paced recording that does full justice to the surround sound concept, using the basses to full effect and a wonderful sense of spatiality and depth that is so lacking on many standard stereo issues. In fact, I have noticed over the years that purely choral music often benefits more from the surround treatment than many orchestral pieces. Perhaps it is the similarity of timbre in the voices that resonates so well as opposed to having to capture so many differing instrumental characteristics—I don’t know, this is just a guess—but something about many choral recordings seem to flood the speakers in a way that I don’t always get otherwise.

There are no weak spots here at all, only superbly wrought vocalizations of one of the seminal choral works of the last century, almost symphonic in scope, and as powerful a piece as you are likely to hear. If you still don’t know this work, by all means hasten to make its acquaintance. This is a good place to start.

—Steven Ritter