Sergey RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Vespers (or All-Night-Vigils)
St Petersburg Academic Cappella
(Glinka State Choir)
Saison Russe (harmonia
mundi) LDC288050 [61:51]
(1992 recording, also released 1997) [midprice]
Rachmaninov's Vespers is surely one of the most sublime and profoundly moving
a cappella choral works in the whole repertoire. The Vespers, several
sections of which are based on old traditional melodies, might be regarded
as a vast choral symphony in which the sacred elements assume epic proportions.
Its archaisms recall the majesty of Moscow's Kremlin cathedrals. The work
is very accessible, with many fine melodies and colourful episodes.
The Russian choir sing like angels, fully in command of all the demands of
this beautifully crafted work with its glorious and colourful multi-part
writing utilising so many varied combinations of solos and groups of voices.
To mention only a few of the movements: The deep bass introduction to the
opening movement, 'Venez, inclinons-nous devant le Seigneur' that opens out
to the radiant, fervent chorus written vertically, most of the time in seven
parts with brief vocalises reiterated in several voices. Then there is 'Mon
âme, bénis le Seigneur', surely one of Rachmaninov's most beautiful
creations with its lovely mezzo-soprano solo and rapt accompanying voices
-- alternating male and female voices -- the men descending as low as bottom
C. 'Heureux l'homme' has glorious, intensely moving Alleluias, and 'Lumière
paisible' is a gently rocking Kiev chant. The 'Hexapsalm', with its tolling
bell-like figures and its ecstatic climax fading sweetly and gently away,
approaches a theatricality that borders on sacred-opera.
David Nice has said, of this recording, in his BBC Music Magazine's
Top 1000 CD Guide, recommendation -- "For absolutely perfect pitching
throughout, you need to turn to the British Corydon Singers on Hyperion,
but their admirable performance remains within the pure English cathedral-choir
tradition. This, the genuine Russian article, is something that can never
be simulated." Absolutely!