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Sergey Rachmaninov (1873-1943)
All-Night Vigil (Vespers), Op. 37 (1915)
Klara Korkan (mezzo); Konstantin Ognevoi (tenor)
State Academic Russian Choir/Aleksander Sveshnikov
rec. 1965
Reviewed as download

I reviewed the Melodiya CD issue of this classic account in 2015 and refer you that review for my summary of its manifest virtues.

Harmonically rich and profoundly devotional, this is ageless music which was hailed as a masterpiece from its premiere over a century ago and continues to appeals to the depths of the human soul. It is especially famous for the startling resonance of its bassi profondissimi descending to a low B flat in the Nunc dimmitis but the whole choir is phenomenal and the two soloists the best ever for this music; the tenor has an extraordinarily plaintive, yet powerful, timbre and the mezzo-soprano is rich-toned and sincere.

The sound has always been somewhat saturated and sibilant but that has never been a hindrance to appreciating its all-enveloping impact and comparison with the perfectly acceptable 2008 CD issue reveals that this new remastering from HDTT lends it greater weight and immediacy while reducing hiss to the minimum.

Other choirs have recorded estimable versions but in my long experience of it none has even approached the supremacy of this recording, not least because those special Russian basses cannot be replicated by other ethnic groups. There are so many touches which are identifiably idiomatic and born of long familiarity with the tradition of the music, such as the way the choir applies ritardandi on each articulation of “Alliluyia” in Blessed is the Man or in the rhythmic swing of the Kiev Chant Nunc dimittis.

Every lover of Russian, choral, liturgical music will want this is in their collection and HDDT offers five download, two DVD Audio and four physical CD options to suit all pockets with cover art and liner notes available for download, too. It is a sobering thought that very few, if any of the performers here will still be on this earth yet in this one recording they have left a legacy of unearthly beauty.

Ralph Moore

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