Signum Classics are proud to release a LIVE recording of the stirring performance by Tenebrae of Rachmaninoff’s ‘All-Night Vigil’ (Vsenoshchnoye bdeniye, Op. 37).
The recording was made live at the North Wales International Music Festival in conjunction with Boosey & Hawkes, Music Publishers Ltd.
The roots of the Russian Orthodox Church are traceable back into the Third Century A.D. Whilst Western forms of Christianity continued to evolve, the Orthodox tradition has been preserved largely intact since the 11th Century, despite persecution of the Church under an intolerant Communist regime in Russia.
The music of the Russian Orthodox Church features vocal chants, the oldest of which is known as znamenny (from the Slavonic znamia meaning “sign”). The melody of this chant is extremely simple, and whilst other composers added their characteristic harmonic effects, Rachmaninoff consciously preserved the modal purity of the original in his setting of the Vespers.
The all-night vigil is celebrated on the eve of the main feasts of the Orthodox Church. Originally it lasted all night and consisted of three separate services to celebrate the beauty of the setting sun, and to reflect on the spiritual light of Christ as the new light of the coming day and the eternal light of heaven.
Rachmaninoff’s setting of the vigil was written in 1915, in the middle of the First World War. He has used authentic znamenny chant in seven movements, with two movements employing Greek chants.
“Even in my dreams I could not have imagined that I would write such a work” Rachmaninoff told the singers at the first performance in March 1915.
The work is dedicated to the scholar Stephan Vasilevitch Smolensky who introduced Rachmaninoff to the repertoire of the church, however the composer’s inspiration was as much politically motivated as spiritually – the composition was a powerful affirmation of nationalism during the war.
Tenebrae characteristically create an atmosphere of spiritual and musical reflection at their performances, using candlelight and movement within ecclesiastical venues.
"A specially recorded live concert of Rachmaninov’s beautiful Vespers, performed by the choir Tenebrae under the baton of Nigel Short. It was recorded last September as part of the North Wales International Music Festival in Great Britain’s smallest cathedral, St Asaph, just west of Chester. The choir, dressed in their rich purple cassocks, performed to a packed cathedral, lit entirely by candlelight. The All-Night Vigil is celebrated on the eve of the main feasts of the Russian Orthodox church with the purpose of showing a sense of beauty in the setting sun. It gives the congregation a chance to consider the spiritual light of Christ and the eternal light of the heavenly kingdom."
"The booklet notes by David Bray are a good start. Helpfully assuming that most of us in he West aren’t familiar with the Orthadox Church’s liturgical and musical traditions, Bray explores both aspects, and Rachmaninov’s relationship to each, with readable expertise. Vespers is the first part of the Orthodox All-Night-Vigil, which also includes Matins and Prime(the First Hour). Rachmaninov’s 15 unacommpanied choral settings from these services encompass a near-miraculous range of musical imagination, while respecting the traditional chants on which they’re largely based. The work’s demands are extreme, with bass parts descending to suvbteranean depths, and there is also an overall need for non-stop emotional intensity of a very Russian kind. Tenebrae’s success is as complete as can be imagined from singers who are not themselves Russian. Their performance was recorded live in the quite small, but warm and claer acoustic of St Asaph Cathedral in North Wales. The result is both intimate and powerfully atmospheric, shedding new and memorable light on what usually comes across as a massive choral spectacular. The solo singing is a touch variable but the best is magnificent; and a single item from Rachmaninov’s earlier Liturgy of St John Chrysostom is included as an encore." ***** Best Buy
"Nigel Short and Tenebrae have just the right balance of control and passion, reverence and exuberance that makes for such a superb performance."