Rachmaninov: All-night Vigil, “Vespers” by The Latvian Radio Choir (Ondine, 2013. 62 minutes)
The Latvian Radio Choir, founded in 1940, is regarded as one of the top professional chamber choirs in Europe. The choir gives at least sixty concerts annually in Latvia and abroad, and regularly appears in theatrical and multimedia events.
The small country of Latvia is around the size of West Virginia. But, surrounded by other Baltic neighbors, it boasts over a 1.2 million Latvian folk songs. With such a rich heritage in song, the country holds regular choir festivals, where twenty thousand or more singers show up to participate in song together. Among the many choirs in the country, the best is most likely the Latvian Radio Choir.
I don’t normally review choir albums, because, even as a choir teacher, it feels a little pretentious. But, what the Latvian Radio Choir does in this album is certainly worth sharing. The Latvian Radio Choir shows the power of what a mere two dozen people can do if they put their efforts toward the same goal.
Twilight & Chant Singing
The vespers by Rachmaninov are written about that time of day, twilight, where the last light begins to fade away in a shimmer. Originally written and premiered in 1915, the songs in Rachmaninov’s All-Night Vigil consisted of texts taken from the Russian Orthodox ceremony of the same name. It has been hailed as the greatest musical achievement of the Russian Orthodox Church, and Rachmaninov was so pleased with the work that he requested the fifth movement be sung at his funeral.
Three different styles of chant are present in this setting of the vespers, adding to its overall uniqueness. Znammeny chant is present throughout most of the tracks, and one can hear it in the unison melismatic lines. One can hear it present on tracks eight, nine, and twelve through fourteen. Unfortunately, I can’t find a recording to present here of the Latvian Radio Choir, but one will suffice.
Another type of chant that Rachmaninov included is a more recitational Greek-style chant, it can be found on tracks two and fifteen.
Lastly, Rachmaninov utilized Kiev chant, a chant developed in the city of Kiev in the 16th and 17th centuries. My favorite track, “Song of Simeon, Lord Now Let Your Servant Depart (Nyne otpushchayeshi)” ends with the bass section descending the scale to a low B-flat, something which is both astoundingly beautiful and astonishingly difficult to pull off. One can hear the beauty of the Orthodox way of singing here, and I daresay, the Latvian people certainly know how to accomplish this well.
The recordings that you’ve heard here are merely a representation of good choral singing, but I feel that the Latvian Radio Choir’s presentation of this classic vesper setting is the best I’ve heard. Even if you’re not a fan of choirs singing, you should check Rachmaninov: All-night Vigil, “Vespers”
out for it’s astoundingly beautiful sounds.
Verdict: 4.5 out of 5