Rachmaninov: All-Night Vigil, Op. 37

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Rachmaninov
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: All-Night Vigil, Op. 37
PERFORMER: Julia Scozzafava (mezzo), Frank Fleschner (tenor); Phoenix Chorale; Kansas City Chorale/Charles Bruffy
CATALOGUE NO: CHSA 5148

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No doubt about it, these are two very fine professional choirs, unique in an unparalleled lower-register smokiness and resonance. The basses can reach the famous bottom notes: the C at the end of ‘Blessed is the Man’ is a wonder, the final B flat in the ‘Song of Simeon’ a little more cautious, but definitely there. Any claim to Russian Orthodox authenticity, though, is cancelled out with the cowled sound of the sopranos, who seem to be imitating the trebles of English cathedral tradition. How I miss the open, Slavic brilliance we ought to have at times here, whether with vibrato, as in the benchmark recordings of St Petersburg’s incomparable Glinka Academic Capella, or without, as we heard from the best recent contender, the Latvian Radio Choir on Ondine.

I’d also like more layering, more movement and accenting of the words, which I can’t be sure that the Americans grasp (there are no Russian names among the choristers). The solos are well taken – with just a hint of awkward pitching from Bryan Pinkall in the lead into the Great Doxology – but I miss both the opulence of a true Russian mezzo/contralto and the sweetness of the lighter Slavic tenor voice. The sound as caught in Kansas’s Cathedral of St Peter the Apostle is rich, especially in the great blazes of the two big settings towards the end (if only there were more of them). Full marks, too, to Vladimir Morosan’s detailed note giving us the context of each setting’s place in the All-Night Vigil.

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David Nice