Vespers & Complete All-Night Vigil
Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir
Paul Hiller, conductor
Harmonia Mundi, 2008
All-Night Vigil is one of the few compositions Sergei Rachmaninov wrote after the outbreak of World War I and is considered one of his best achievements and one of the most inspired religious pieces of all the times. Sometimes All-Night Vigil is simply translated as Vespers, but this is incorrect, since Rachmaninov took the texts from two of the Office’s Canonical Hours (both the Vespers and the Matins). This was among Rachmaninov’s favourite compositions, along with The Bells, and he remembered it also in his late years, when he quoted the Dies irae and the Blagosloven yesi, Gospodi (Blessed be the Lord) in the Symphonic Dances, composed in 1940, and wanted one piece to be sung at his funeral.
All-Night Vigil was composed in 1915 and premiered in Moscow on the same year. It reminds of Tchaikovsky’s Liturgy for St. John Chrysostom, with which shares many similarities, and to the glorious tradition of Russian sacred music, deliberately ignoring contemporary music and its development.
I propose you the All-Night Vigil in the recording of the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir directed by Paul Hiller. This is a very good recording – not the best one ever for the only reason that it is a little too plain and flat sometimes, but it does not lack inspiration from a general point of view and the soloists and chorus’s voices are marvellous. The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir preserves what is in my opinion the best feature of Russian religious music, that is the peculiarity to replace the instruments with the flow of the singing, and creates some beautiful melodies where you feel the mysticism of this music. The solo tenor is a fine singer, but the real strength of the album is the bass, a true basso profondo of the best Russian tradition with the most powerful and darkest voice as possible. The result is really amazing.