In 2000, MDR Rundfunkchor recorded Rachmaninov’s All-Night Vigil (Vespers) under Howard Arman’s direction at Paul-Gerhardt-Kirche, Leipzig on Berlin Classics. Released in 2002 the album was well-received. Now some fifteen years later MDR Rundfunkchor has returned to the same Leipzig church for its second recording of All-Night Vigil on the Genuin label, an album which the French music magazine Diapason awarded a Diapason d' Or.
Although Rachmaninov had ceased attending church services he still retained an interest in sacred music. Influences were undoubtedly his teacher Taneyev a choral music specialist, Tchaikovsky who wrote a Liturgy of St John Chrysostom (1878) and All-Night Vigil (1881) and Gretchaninov whose body of sacred music included an All-Night Vigil (1912). In 1910 Rachmaninov composed his Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and five years later in just two weeks wrote the work contained here All-Night Vigil which has become a cornerstone of choral repertory. Premiered successfully at aMoscow in 1915 at a charity concert for Russian war victims it was Nikolai Danilin who directed the male choir of Synodal Institute. The All-Night-Vigil is part of the liturgy of the Russian Orthodox Church and is celebrated on the eves of Sundays and of major liturgical feasts. As stipulated by the Russian Orthodox Church, Rachmaninov bases ten of the fifteen sections on traditional sacred chant while the remaining sections (numbers 1, 3, 6, 10, & 11) although very similar are the composer’s own in a freer-form that he described as “conscious counterfeits.” In accordance with Rachmaninov’s wishes the fifth section (Nunc Dimittis) was sung at his funeral.
Under the direction of chorus director Risto Joost it’s hard to find fault with this assured performance of Rachmaninov’s divine masterpiece. Extremely well prepared MDR Rundfunkchor communicates an impeccable, focused sound and is unerringly responsive to the sacred text. Joost has secured the services of several Latvian basses noted for their distinctive dark tone who sound mightily impressive here. Polish contralto Klaudia Zeiner the featured soloist in the second section ‘Praise the Lord, my soul’ sings smoothly, producing a dark tone and communicating convincing piety. Featuring in three solo sections German tenor Falk Hoffmann excels singing with purity also conveying impressive reverence.
Recorded at Paul-Gerhardt-Kirche, Leipzig the engineering team provides satisfying sound, impressive in clarity, presence and balance. The booklet contains an invaluable essay titled ‘Church singing he loved so very much…’ by Dr. Harald Hodeige together with biographical notes of the performers. It’s gratifying to report sung Russian texts are provided with English translations in the booklet.
My established first choice recording of Rachmaninov’s All-Night Vigil remains, for its intense depth of expression, St. Petersburg Chamber Choir directed by Vladislav Chernushenko from 1986 at Moscow on French label Saison Russe/Chant du Monde. Directed by Risto Joost, MDR Rundfunkchor is in remarkable form with this recording which stands alongside the finest of the established accounts in the catalogue.
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