RACHMANINOV: Vespers, Op. 37 – Swedish Radio Choir/ Toenu Kaljuste – Virgin Classics

by | Aug 12, 2007 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

RACHMANINOV: Vespers, Op. 37 – Swedish Radio Choir/ Toenu Kaljuste – Virgin Classics 00946 391375 2, 53:55 ****:

Anyone so consumed with the Day of Judgment as Sergei Rachmaninov must also have possessed an equal faith in the glories of the Afterlife. Having already composed his Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (1910), Rachmaninov set to work on his All-Night Vigil in 1915, on the eve of his permanent departure from pre-Revolutionary Russia. Set as 15 canticles in the Russian Orthodox tradition, the a cappella work explores Russian hymnody in a series of alternately austere and homophonic, rich textures, some polyphonic, some deliberately and archaically modal. As sung in a melodic Russian, the series produces a devout homage to the language as well as to the Rachmannov’s devotional spirit, perhaps the most exaltedly splendid treatment of Russian after Moussorgsky’s Boris Gudonov.

The source for the present recording is a 1995 master tape from EMI. Rising up from the opening O Come, Let U Worship, we pass through various states of religious ecstasy and contemplation, the O gladsome Sight having a particular resonance in capturing the beatific vision of exquisite innocence. A rich tenor graces Nunc dimittis, while a deep bass drone or solo will provide a plastic, layered counterpoint to the sopranos. The Six Psalms traverses a wide dynamic range, exploding with passion, then dissipating into a rarified ether. The Russian Laudate dominum enjoys a bright, richly syncopated texture.

Blessed Art Thou, O Lord, Hymn of the Resurrection, and Magnificat form a natural triptych, alternately declamatory and inflamed. The Hymn combines Gregorian Chant and antiphonal procedures, the push and pull the liturgical equivalent of a Chopin nocturne. The last of the extensive sections is The Great Doxology (Gloria), led by angelic sopranos, answered by tenors and haunting altos. The basses extend the muted declaration of faith, which suddenly swells and fades, arioso and recitativo, in equally majestic sonorities. The last trilogy celebrates the Resurrection directly, mysterious and wonderful. O Victorious Leader hints at Onward Christian Soldiers, only more stylish.

The liner notes provide no information on the recording location, but the hall is brightly resonant–tender diminuendos throughout–the individual choral lines and blends sensually pious. I had been away from this elegant music too long!

— Gary Lemco


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