Conventional wisdom once held that non-Slavic voices were incapable of singing Rachmaninov’s All-Night Vigil (Vespers). Since the music’s subterranean bass lines and mystical fervour emerged from that eternally suffering condition known as the Russian Soul, it supposedly needed eternally suffering Russians to bring it life.
Perhaps it did. But over the past quarter century, since the Soviet Union’s demise, the majestic Vespers has entered the international choral repertoire. Latvian conductor Kaspars Putniņš serves as bridge between East and West in the Netherlands Radio Choir’s rich new Rachmaninov recording. His multi-hued Vespers interpretation, backed to the hilt by the tonal heft of the NRC’s 68 professional singers, evokes the intensity of Russian Orthodox worship.
Although I wouldn’t part with the St Petersburg Cappella’s benchmark recording from the early 1990s, Putniņš and the Netherlands Radio Choir come close to bettering it. Listen to the transcendent climax of Velichit dusha moya Gospoda, Rachmaninov’s setting of the Magnificat, or the immaculate chordal voicing in Blagosloven esi, Gospodi for a feel of the performance’s compelling energy. This outstanding release, recommended without conditions, is crowned with Rachmaninov’s little-known early sacred concerto, an impassioned hymn to Mary, Mother of God, The Theotokos.