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Rachmaninov's Refreshing 'All Night Vigil'


Finally this hour, some music that shows a very different side of composer Sergei Rachmaninov. He's best known for his romantic and virtuosic piano concertos.

Well, All Night Vigil is a choral work written for the Russian Orthodox Church. There's a new recording of it from conductor Paul Hillier and the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir.

Our music critic, Tom Manoff, has this review.

TOM MANOFF reporting:

The All Night Vigil was written in a time of war.

(Soundbite of choir singing in foreign language)

MANOFF: Rachmaninov had just spent a year touring cities in support of Russian troops, and the sense of spiritual transcendence in the All Night Vigil was the composer's response to the chaos and suffering around him.

(Soundbite of choir singing in foreign language)

MANOFF: The All Night Vigil has 15 sections, 10 of which were based on chants of the Russian church. But Rachmaninov wrote completely new music for the other five sections. Among them, this prayer and hallelujah of unforgettable beauty.

(Soundbite of choir singing in foreign language)

MANOFF: I've never been satisfied by a non-Russian recording of the All Night Vigil, until this one. The Estonian singers may not be Russian, but they're fluent in the language. And Russian choral music has always been a part of their tradition. Language, and the way it fosters various textures of vocal sound, is basic to choral music.

Conductor Paul Hillier handles this vocal realm almost like a painter, looking for just the right musical color for every word, and just the right vocal density for every chord. The result is a magnificent performance of deep sadness and powerful outpourings of joy.

(Soundbite of choir singing in foreign language)

MANOFF: Rachmaninov left czarist Russia in 1917, as his homeland ended one era of suffering only to begin another. He considered the All Night Vigil one of his finest works, and in his will, asked that it be sung at his funeral and that he be buried in Moscow. That didn't happen.

Sergei Rachmaninov, the composer of this spiritual testament to his homeland, died in 1943 in Beverly Hills, California, then was buried in Westchester County, New York, a long way from home.

(Soundbite of choir singing in foreign language)

BLOCK: The music by Sergei Rachmaninov is called All Night Vigil, performed here by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir. Our reviewer is Tom Manoff.

(Soundbite of choir singing in foreign language)


You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Manoff
Composer and author Tom Manoff has been the classical music critic for NPR's All Things Considered since 1985.