ALBUM TITLE: Rachmaninov: Vespers
WORKS: All-night Vigil (Vespers), Op. 37; The Theotokos
PERFORMER: Netherlands Radio Choir/Kaspars Putnins
CATALOGUE NO: BIS-2039 (hybrid CD/SACD)
Knowing the Netherlands Radio Choir’s superb James MacMillan recordings, I awaited its Rachmaninov with considerable anticipation. Sad to say, it’s hard to credit that this is the same choir. Not that the singing is downright bad, but there’s a difference between a choir prepared to high professional standards, and one that sounds like a run-of-the-mill large choir.
Much of the intrinsic beauty of Rachmaninov’s All-Night Vigil comes through, yet there are too many lacklustre moments when the voices have to divide. To take just two instances, the altos’ iffy tuning spoils what should be the heart-warming final bars of ‘O gentle radiance’; and in the following Nunc dimittis the less than confident-sounding first basses are cruelly exposed – a pity as the second basses effortlessly reach the notorious low B flat which ends that movement. There are some lovely tracks, such as ‘O Virgin Mother of God’, but by the penultimate movement ‘Thou didst rise again’, sopranos and altos sound tired and their tone curdled. As it is, there’s plenty of choice for this masterpiece, ranging from the now classic Corydon Singers’ on Hyperion – in the best English choral tradition with very fine soloists – to the more idiomatic versions by several Russian choirs, such as the Moscow Academy of Choral Art on Delos.
The Netherlands choir’s disc ends with Rachmaninov’s early setting of The Theotokos (otherwise known as ‘In our Prayers, Ever-Vigilant Mother of God’), less focused in tone than the alternative recording conducted by Valery Polyansky (on Brilliant Classics).