Rachmaninov: All-night Vigil

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COMPOSERS: Sergey Rachmaninov
LABELS: Ondine
ALBUM TITLE: Rachmaninov: All-night Vigil
WORKS: All-night Vigil
PERFORMER: Latvian Radio Choir/Sigvards klava
CATALOGUE NO: ODE12065

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In so many ways, the Rachmaninov of Latvia’s outstanding professional choir presents a golden mean between the uniquely open-throated but not always pitch-perfect Glinka Choir of the hallowed St Petersburg tradition, and the more reserved tones of English choral contenders. The range of dynamics, honoured by Ondine’s first-rate production in Riga’s Church of St John, is stunning: have the climaxes ever blazed quite like this? Layering always impresses, especially in the balance between vibrant, human alto lines and seraphic sopranos in ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul’. Basses, as you might expect with Baltic singers, have the lower resonances Rachmaninov requires. And conductor Sigvards Klava really shapes the longer-term arguments, especially in the crucial Resurrection setting, ‘Blessed art thou, O Lord’, which is imbued with a special air of awe and mystery. That said, the syncopated ‘slavas’ that crown it, remembered in Rachmaninov’s swansong the Symphonic Dances, remain luminously spiritual, rather than earthy and dynamic, as when the Glinka Choir projects them. Both approaches are valid; I just happen to prefer the second.

One defect mars near-perfection: the Orthodox ‘Song of Simeon’ has a tenor less sweet-sounding than the many belonging to the Russian tradition – the Glinkas’ soloist probably the best of them all – and he is set well back in the choir. It’s a solitary blot on this rich landscape, but a significant one: the setting is the one Rachmaninov wanted performed at his funeral, and one of the most ineffable choral pieces ever written. Still, this performance is a remarkable achievement.

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David Nice