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CD Review

Sergei Rachmaninoff

Vespers and Matins, Op. 37 (All-Night Vigil)

Olga Borodina, mezzo-soprano
Vladimir Mostovoy, tenor
St. Petersburg Chamber Choir/Nikolai Korniev
Decca Virtuoso 4787892
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I wasn't the only one who admired Ondine 1206-5 (available as a Hybrid Multichannel SACD) in 2013; it won high praise as a reference edition of this seminal Orthodox choral work. My entry is (as of May 2015) the only review of the work for Classical Net, so it's a pleasure to add another. Unfortunately, this 1994 performance simply doesn't match up with the best options on the market.

I commented at length on Robert Shaw's very beautiful but arguably inauthentic approach while considering the Ondine release. I deemed the latter to have the requisite Slavic bite and atmosphere. This disc partially justifies Shaw's unidiomatic viewpoint, because no matter what your views on Orthodox liturgy or choral scholarship, you can't deny that the master's Telarc recording sounds better than this Virtuoso reissue. As for the Ondine disc, the added bass intonations – not to mention the altogether more audible bass lines – give the work a needed gravity and solemnity that turns rather watery here. The recording is at least partially to blame, as it lacks overall clarity even as it attempts to make the St. Petersburg Chamber Choir sound larger than it is. I also suspect that the recording was made in a rather resonant church, like the Shaw. Unlike Shaw, conductor Nikolai Korniev adopts uniformly flowing tempos that occasionally cause his choir to blur together against the acoustic.

Ultimately, I find Sigvards Klava and the Latvian Radio Chorus (the Ondine program) the current standout in this music, though a 2015 release on Chandos may pose serious competition. Neither is threatened by this well-sung but rather lightweight effort. Despite some awfully heavy moments, I can also recommend the Shaw disc, since for most of us, we want this music to sound as beautiful as it can.

Copyright © 2015, Brian Wigman