Rachmaninov: Vespers, Op. 37; Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, Op. 31 (excerpts)

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COMPOSERS: Rachmaninov
LABELS: NAIVE
WORKS: Vespers, Op. 37; Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, Op. 31 (excerpts)
PERFORMER: Eva Ericson-berglund (soprano), Joanna Dobrakowska (alto), Romain Champion (tenor), Vladimir Miller (bass); Accentus; Eric Ericson Chamber Choir/Laurence Equilbey
CATALOGUE NO: Naïve V 5239

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A collaboration between French and Swedish choirs (the magnificent Eric Ericson Chamber Choir and Accentus, the creation of conductor Laurence Equilbey), this recording presents the bulk of Rachmaninov’s most important liturgical music in performances that are good and authentic-sounding enough to rival the best of native Russian choral ensembles.

Recorded in the vibrant acoustic of the church of Notre-Dame du Liban in Paris, they produce a rich, glowing yet transparent sonority of great refinement and expressive force. Perhaps the result is more elegant, less anguished than the benchmark St Petersburg Capella under Vladislav Chernuchenko produce.

But the result is certainly a disc of singular beauty and spiritual warmth, which bears out that beyond all the sumptuousness of vocal tone Rachmaninov’s music embodies a genuine underlying religious passion.

While the 1915 Vespers is given complete, only seven numbers – about a third of the whole – are sung from the more florid and longer but equally spellbinding Liturgy of St John Chrysostom from 1910: such is the quality of the singing I would gladly have heard a complete performance, though that would have meant a second disc.

There are excellent complete performances, notably by the Bulgarian Radio Choir on EMI, but the excerpts on this disc – they include the ‘Cherubic Hymn’ which is one of the work’s sublime high points – are worth anyone’s hearing.

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The superlative recording captures an enormous dynamic range, and a beauty of tone and perfection of ensemble that are very moving. Among the soloists, the bass Vladimir Miller stands out for his impressive presence in the ‘Our Father’ of the Liturgy and the third movement of the Vespers. Calum MacDonald