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Nocturne (La Tempête)

Adrian Sîrbu (Byzantine singer);La Tempête/Simon-Pierre Bestion (Alpha Classics)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

Nocturne
Rachmaninov: All-Night Vigil; plus Byzantine Hymns
Adrian Sîrbu (Byzantine singer);La Tempête/Simon-Pierre Bestion
Alpha Classics ALPHA 897   76:39 mins

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Simon-Pierre Bestion specialises in albums of cultural mash-ups – perhaps most relevant to this one is his Larmes de Resurrection, with Lebanese singer Georges Abdallah, a specialist in Byzantine chant, as the Evangelist in 17th-century liturgical works by Schütz and Schein. Here we have Rachmaninov’s All-Night Vigil prefaced and interleaved with ancient Orthodox Byzantine chants.

Romanian singer and Byzantine scholar Adrian Sîrbu sings the chants with a passion and microtonal inflection that convey a raw, living tradition. Unfortunately, the contrast between this and La Tempête’s relatively disciplined performance style in the Rachmaninov is jarring. To a degree it’s a matter of two different styles, but one can’t help feeling that the problem is even more fundamental, given other, more emotionally empathetic performances of Rachmaninov’s Vigil where the singers appear more engaged with the texts they are singing.

That’s not to say that the Rachmaninov is presented entirely ‘pure’: besides segueing between the two musics, Bestion adds some theatrical touches: for some reason, Rachmaninov’s opening ‘Priidite, poklonimsia’ (Come, let us worship) is rearranged for upper voices only, omitting the tenors and basses; less objectionable is the use of a semi-chorus for the livelier sections of ‘Velichit dusha moya Gospoda’ (My Soul magnifies the Lord).

Generally, though, Bestion follows Rachmaninov’s score to the letter, and occasionally the music catches fire: in ‘Shestopsalmiye’ (The Six Psalms), his following the score’s accelerando results in a genuine moment of excitement. But for too long stretches, the All-Night Vigil appears here a denuded museum artefact, displayed alongside a distantly related musical tradition  that’s presented in a more vibrant and authentic style.

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Daniel Jaffé