Klassik  Chor/Lied
Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks & Michael Gläser Musik aus Russland OC 351 CD
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FormatAudio CD
Ordering NumberOC 351
Release date26/08/2004
Players/ContributorsMusicians Composer
  • Rachmaninov, Sergei

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      Description hide

      Michael Gläser - Dirigent / conductor
      Theresa Blank - Alt /alto
      Anton Rosner - Tenor / tenor

      Larissa Kowal-Wolk
      The Hour of Happiest Fulfillment
      On Sergei Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil (Vespers) for soli and mixed choir a cappella, op. 37

      Date of composition
      January and February 1915 in Moscow Dedication To the memory of Stepan Smolenski (1848- 1909), whose efforts in regard to sacred music cannot be too highly praised

      March 10, 1915 (without, however, Nos. 1, 13 and 14) in Moscow with the Moscow Synodal Choir, conducted by Nikolai Danilin, for a concert benefiting Russian victims of the war

      Composer information
      Born March 20 (April 1), 1873 on his family’s estate Oneg in Gouvernement Novgorod; died March 28, 1943 in Beverly Hills, California “Rachmaninoff, the author of works which are thoroughly bourgeois in their emotional and spiritual effect, the composer of liturgies, masses and The Bells [a work for soli, choir and orchestra in which the chiming of bells plays an important role], was and is a servant and tool of the worst enemies of the proletariat: the world-bourgeoisie and world capitalism.” This quote, found in an official resolution from the early 1930s, documents the animosity towards the composer that existed in post-revolutionary Russia and which had caused him to prudently leave his home after the revolution’s outbreak. Previously, Rachmaninoff had been esteemed both in Russia and later in the West as the composer of epic-narrative symphonies, late-Romantic piano music and songlike Romances. In addition, he had written some excellent sacred music. These were a thorn in the flesh of the atheistic rulers, however, who ensured that Rachmaninoff’s works were banned in Russia for many years.

      It was Rachmaninoff who considered one of his liturgical works, the opus 37, as one of his best. It fit so seamlessly and naturally into the severe Russian Orthodox liturgical service and also conveyed an intimate, righteous, prayerful attitude typical for the Byzantine Rite: a personal dialog with God.

      Among the childhood memories firmly imprinted on all Russians – including Rachmaninoff – are the long worship services with their powerful choral singing. The Byzantine Rite cannot be imagined without singing, because except for the sermon, everything is sung. In the course of Christianization, which began in 988, Russian liturgical chant, although incorporating various folklore elements, developed as a purely vocal form. Not only does the Byzantine Church regard musical instruments as incapable of prayer or praise, it is felt that because such instruments are used for dance music, their use in the church would profane the sacred space. Although the oldest forms of the liturgy were unison lines sung by men only, polyphony slowly entered the arena as well. Women’s voices gradually came to be accepted also, as were various Western musical influences. Despite these changes, the prohibition on instruments has never been touched.

      Western listeners unfamiliar with the Byzantine Rite, so seemingly filled with mysticism, often perceive Russian liturgical music as the portal to another world: foreign, fascinating, inexplicable. One reason for this is the texts, so full of meaning, sung in Old Church Slavonic [which developed from Old Bulgarian]. Another is the Byzantine modal tradition based on the eight church modes, which follow completely different harmonic rules than the major-minor system so well known in Western Europe. The characteristic melodic formulas comprising the essence and magic of Russian folk music, including their depth and melancholy, are likewise found in Russian liturgical chant. The two musical forms, folkloristic and sacred vocal music, developed alongside and mutually influenced each other, after all.

      In summer 1910, Rachmaninoff composed his Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, often considered by music historians to be a preliminary work for his actual masterpiece, opus 37. The name of the 1915 work is Vsenošc¡noe bde¡nie, a designation for the “All-night Vigil” – a common form of worship continuing through the night, subdivided into the vespers at dusk, through the midnight matins and on into the prime at dawn. This type of service is still practised in some cloisters on the eve of high feasts. Rachmaninoff set the 15 fixed parts of the liturgy to music. The texts of these pieces are never changed, but are interspersed with prayers, readings, litanies and tropes related to the specific holiday. The evening service primarily praises the Creator, points to the compassionate arrival of Christ and leads believers into the quiet space resulting from the waning of the day. In contrast, the morning service engenders hopeful joy with its message of salvation from the New Testament.

      Traditionally, each number accompanies a specific liturgical action: No. 1 is a sort of invitation to the service (Come, let us pray) when the curtain to the holy ark is opened, the iconostase is opened in the middle and the priest silently swings the incense burner. While Rachmaninoff ‘freely’ set this beginning, composing the melody himself in the style of traditional chant, the alto solo in the second number (Praise the Lord, O my soul) introduces the well known, moving, ancient Greek melody carrying the text of a shortened version of the Creation Psalm (No. 103). This piece is a first high point of the vespers, and presents believers with the entire magnificence and grandeur of the surrounding natural world. Rachmaninoff lets the solo voice lead; the choir only supports it with long, sustained tones. This style, however, was not necessarily the choice of the composer, but the strictly laid out liturgical order proscribes even the solistic or choral means to be used, demonstrating the strict regimentation of the Byzantine service.

      Rachmaninoff wrote melodies for five of the pieces (1, 6, 7, 10 and 11) himself, as opposed to the others, which utilize old, unison Greek and Russian liturgical chants. The composer supremely mastered the task of uniting all 15 numbers to one unified whole in which there is never a trace of stylistic discontinuity.

      After the beatitude (No. 3), the evensong hymn (No. 4) refers to the end of the day. Set according to melodies of the Kiev region, this is one of the oldest melodies in the Orthodox Rite and gives the listener an almost mystical experience, especially as it is getting dim in the church at the time the hymn is sung. The piece remains pianissimo, oscillates stepwise with long note values, finally putting the listener in a trancelike state.

      The vesper slowly comes to an end with the canticle of Simeon (No. 5) (O Lord, now you can dismiss your servant in peace). Rachmaninoff wished to have this Orthodox counterpart to the Latin Nunc dimittis sung at his own funeral, which failed because the music for it could not be found. But his desire is a sign that he was highly satisfied with this movement. The movement did, however, give the conductor of the premiere a major conundrum, as Rachmaninoff himself told: “Towards the end, the basses have a part, a pianissimo scale which slowly rises to a B-flat in the high octave. When I played this part, Danilin [conductor of the premiere] shook his head and said, ‘For God’s sake – where will we get basses who can do this? They’re as rare as asparagus at Christmas!’ But he found them. I knew the voices of my fellow countrymen and knew exactly what one can expect of Russian basses!” The vesper closes after the Ave Maria (No. 6), which pays homage to the mother of God – segueing into the following number with its magnificent Gloria and into the prime service. The following two numbers contain an extensive adoration of God culminating in alleluias. The mystery of the resurrection becomes increasingly insistent. The entire resurrection day is described vividly in Praise be to you, O Lord my God (No. 9). Musically, the composition lives from its alternating combinations of frequently changing two- and three-part voice groups and solos. It also conveys the impression that these voice groups are acting independently of each other. Number 10 (Christ is risen) is emphatically and meaningfully sung by the men in unison. This is the central moment of the liturgy, when the priest carries the New Testament into the middle of the church so that it can be honored by worshipers like an icon; quasi the countenance of Christ himself. After the Magnificat (No. 11), the joy about the resurrection is epochally expressed in two trope arias before the mother of God is thanked for having given birth to the Savior.

      Critic Alexander Ossowsky once said about Rachmaninoff’s sacred works, “One does not have to be a believer or know the dogmas or rites of the Orthodox church to perceive the skill, the breadth of expression and poetry of this music.” But if one does know the world of the Byzantine belief system, one perceives the All-Night Vigil – as Rachmaninoff himself said at the work’s premiere – as the “hour of the happiest ful- fillment.”

      Translation: Elizabeth Gahbler

      Tracklist hide

      CD 1
      • Sergei Rachmaninov (1873–1943) Das große Morgen- und Abendlob
        Vesper für Chor a cappella Op. 37 (Vsenoscnoe bdenie)
        • 1.Nr. 1: Kommt, lasset uns anbeten (Chor)
          (Priidite, poklonimsja)
        • 2.(Priidite, poklonimsja) Nr. 2: Lobe den Herm, meine SeeIe (Chor/AIt)
          Blagoslovi, dushe moja Gospoda) – Griechischer Raspew
        • 3.Nr. 3: Selig ist, der nicht folget dem Rat der Gottlosen. Seligpreisung (Chor)
          (Blazhen muzh)
        • 4.Nr. 4: Heiteres Abendlicht. Abendlied (Chor/Tenor)
          (Svete tichij) – Kiewer Raspew
        • 5.Nr. 5: Herr, nun Iässt du deinen Knecht (Chor/Tenor)
          (Nyne otpushcaeshi) – Kiewer Raspew
        • 6.Nr. 6: Sei gegrüßt, Jungfrau. Ave Maria (Chor)
          (Bogorodice Devo, radujsja)
        • 7.Nr. 7: Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe. Hexapsalm (Chor)
        • 8.Nr. 8: Lobet den Namen des Herrn (Chor)
          (Chvalite imje Gospodne) – Snamenny Raspew
        • 9.Nr. 9: Gelobet seist du, 0 Herr, mein Gott! (Chor/Tenor)
          (Blagosloven esi, Gospodi) – Snamenny Raspew
        • 10.Nr. 10: Auferstanden ist Christus (Chor)
          (Voskreseoie Christovo videvshe)
        • 11.Nr. 11: Meine Seele preist den Herm. Magnificat (Chor)
          (Velichit dusha Moja Gospoda)
        • 12.Nr. 12: Ehre sei Gatt in der Höhe. Große Doxologie (Chor)
          (Slawoslowje wjelikoje) – Snamenny Raspew
        • 13.Nr. 13: Heute ist das Heil zur Erde gekommen
          Troparion. Hymnus – Auferstehungs-Tropar I (Chor) (Dnes spasenie) – Snamenny Raspew
        • 14.Nr. 14: Auferstanden bist du yom Grab. Troparion
          Hymnus – Auferstehungs- Tropar II (Chor) (Voskres iz graba)
        • 15.Nr. 15: Heilige Mutter Gottes. Marienlob (Chor)
          (Vzbrannoj voevode) – Griechischer Raspew
      • Total:01:01:38