Saturday 22 February 2014

Rachmaninov - All Night Vigil (Vespers)

Rachmaninov Vespers - Joyful Company of Singers
Rachmaninov Vespers: The Joyful Company of Singers, Peter Broadbent: Nimbus Alliance
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 18 2014
Star rating: 3.5

A fine achievement, from one of our leading non-professional choirs

This new disc from the Peter Broadbent and the Joyful Company of Singers presents Rachmaninov's All Night Vigil (Vespers) Op. 37 in a bright and flexible new recording, with soloists Lorna Perry and Andrew Shepstone, on the Nimbus Alliance lable. The choir pairs the work with Rachmaninov's early O mother of God vigilantly praying.

It was, I think, the choir of King's College Cambridge which first broke the mould with recordings of Rachmaninov's All Night Vigil (Vespers), showing that there was another way of performing the work. Such performances tend to be lighter, brighter with a transparency of texture and clarity of line, building on a rather different choral tradition. Typically Western European choirs sing the work with a clearer purer tone than the richly vibrant Slavic tradition. But it is not just a question of vibrato and timbre, though that is important. British performers tend to sing Russian vowels far more forward than their Slav counterparts. Partly this is an issue of physiology, the dropping of the jaw and the rear placement of vowel has a tendency to make choirs go flat, so the prevailing sound is a more bright, forward one.

These thoughts were very much in my mind as I listened to this new disc of the Vespers from Peter Broadbent and the Joyful Company of Singers. Recorded using an ensemble of 46 singers, the results are admirably and vibrant and refreshing in their clarity. Whilst the choir does have some admirable low basses, giving some lovely low notes, the prevailing tone is one of fine-grained clarity. Broadbent's tempos are generally nicely flowing, keeping the music moving with a good degree of flexibility from the singers. The sound is a bright forward one which contributes to the feeling of light transparency. That is not to say that the climaxes are under powered, the singers do indeed give the music a vibrant power. The choir clearly follow Broadbent's direction and we have a highly musical performance with a nice fluidity to the phrasing, with incisive rhythmic liveliness in the faster passages.
Lorna Perry makes a rich voiced contralto soloist whilst Andrew Shepstone is a fluent, quite light-voiced tenor solo.

Also included on the disc is Rachmaninov's early O mother of God vigilantly praying which makes an appealing companion.

The CD booklet contains and article on Rachmaninov's music and you are referred to the choir's website for the Russian and English words.

Just occasionally the tone does thin at moments, and there are a couple of places where the sopranos' tone turns gets a little harsh under pressure. But overall you take away the intensity and infectious joy in music making. The Joyful Company of Singers is a non-professional group and this recording is an admirable achievement with some technically brilliant passages.

Sergei Rachmaninov (1873 - 1943) - All-Night Vigil (Vespers) (1915) [48.40]
Sergei Rachmaninov (1873 - 1943) - O mother of God vigilantly praying (1893) [6.41]
The Joyful Company of Singers
Lorna Perry (alto)
Andrew Shepstone (tenor)
Peter Broadbent (conductor)
Recorded at St Jude on the Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, 2-3 March 2013
NIMBUS ALLIANCE NI 62350 1CD [55.11]

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