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Sergey RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Vespers (All-Night Vigil), Op. 37 (1915)
Olga Borodina (mezzo-soprano); Vladimir Mostowoy (tenor)
St Petersburg Chamber Choir/Nikolai Korniev
rec. October 1993, Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul, St Petersburg
Transliterated Russian text with English, German and French translations
DECCA 4787892 [55:03]

I have loved this most beautiful and atmospheric of liturgical works for decades and have never found a recording to match the one conducted by Sveshnikov in 1965 on the Melodiya label (review). None of the Latvian, American, Finnish, Swedish or British recordings comes within a country mile of it. The best of the rest are invariably Russian, although the Ukrainian “Dumka” Choir on the bargain Brilliant label is also recommendable. This recording under review has the advantage over the old Melodiya issue of good digital sound, although somehow that excellent analogue recording, largely devoid of hiss, imparts a special atmosphere to a performance of which I wrote, “It is redolent of candle smoke, bejewelled golden icons and cavernous, chilly cathedrals - a desert island disc.”

This recording shares with Melodiya the essential feature of authentic Russian basses and an excellent mezzo-soprano soloist in the fruity-voiced Olga Borodina, even if I prefer Klara Korkan’s simplicity of utterance. Unfortunately, there are also demerits: a rather feeble tenor soloist and a tendency to rush tempi at key points when a massive steady pulsing rhythm is required rather than an overt speeding up to generate tension. This accounts for an overall timing some nine minutes faster than Sveshnikov and six minutes less than the “Dumka” – which is really quite a lot and suggestive of undue haste.

Much else is right here: the basses’ descent to the famous low B flat two octaves beneath middle C in the Nunc dimittis is thrilling, the sopranos are mercifully devoid of Slavonic wobble or screech; the balance between sections is ideal and the recording retains the requisite cathedral acoustic without become muddied; I find much pleasure in listening to it but ultimately default to the vintage Sveshnikov recording as being without equal for both singing and interpretation.

Ralph Moore

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