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Rachmaninov: All-Night Vigil / Bruffy

Release Date: 03/10/2015 
Label:  Chandos   Catalog #: 5148   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Sergei Rachmaninov
Performer:  Bryan PinkallPaul DavidsonFrank FleschnerJoseph Warner,   ... 
Conductor:  Charles Bruffy
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Kansas City ChoralePhoenix Chorale
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.

Anyone familiar with this repertoire, so intimately associated with Russian culture and religious tradition, who happened to be looking for an exemplary recording, might understandably assume that the ideal performance would be owned by a Russian church or concert choir; after all, these groups, theoretically at least, possess both the singular vocal quality and practiced technique, along with the inherent interpretive understanding, to set the standard for all others. This new recording from Charles Bruffy and his combined Phoenix and Kansas City Chorales not only destroys any such notion, but stands
Read more both as the All-night Vigil’s reference–a stunning rendition a world apart from any other recording of the work–and as a major achievement in the history of choral recordings.

That judgment is derived from decades-long listening to thousands of choral recordings, and, in this specific case, a comparison of the current release with more than a dozen past recordings of the All-night Vigil–from the St. Petersburg Chamber Choir, Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, and USSR Ministry of Culture Chamber Choir (along with assorted other Russian ensembles) to the Robert Shaw Festival Singers and very fine choirs from Finland, Latvia, the Czech Republic, and Sweden; and in each instance, the difference is not subtle. Less than one minute into this new recording you know you’re in a world unlike any other for this work.

First, this performance begins with introits by Deacon and Priest–most recordings eliminate this, but without this brief intro the opening chorus has an unsettling and liturgically weird abruptness; and in spite of the fact that their names are Bryan Taylor and Paul Davidson, Bruffy’s two bass soloists are as Slavic-sounding as you’ll hear on on any Russian recording. And when you hear those interpolated low-Cs in the opening choral “Amen”, well, you know there’s no longer any distance, musically speaking, between Moscow (where this work was premiered–in 1915 by the Moscow Synod Choir) and Kansas City, Kansas (where this recording was made).

And somehow, the sound of this 56-voice choir, captured in Kansas City’s Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle, creates a strangely affecting resonance, vibrant, timeless, eternally echoing. I have no idea how the performers and recording engineers achieved this sound–all other recordings of the work pale in comparison–but at least part of it must be attributed to the large and formidable bass section (16 voices), the nearly as large (15 voices) tenor section, and to Bruffy’s insistence on giving full flower to the glorious harmonies–to not rushing the tempo, which (aside from shady, stuffy, or spongy sound) is the primary problem with virtually all the other competing recordings.

Yes, some listeners may point to exactly that–tempos–much slower-than-usual tempos in some movements–as a criticism of this performance (the well-loved “Bogoroditse Devo”, for instance). But if ever there were music that compelled the performers to take time, to extend the breath, to be magnanimous with the phrase, to revel in harmonic resonance, this is it; and Bruffy has the will and the means (those 56 exceptional voices) to do it. As you listen, absorbed in the music’s luxurious sound and the performance’s stirring effect, you realize that there are not so many recordings, nor are there so many musical works that are able to hold you so thoroughly enthralled from beginning to end. (And it’s a rare choral recording that makes you wish for, or happier to have, a subwoofer attached to your sound system!) As the choir sings the Vigil’s opening section, “Come, let us worship…”, one can only respond, “Absolutely.” Not to be missed.

– David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com

"***** (5 stars) Among the most beautiful of all works for unaccompanied chorus, [the All-Night Vigil] turns away from temporal conflict and gazes calmly into eternity.... The US conductor Charles Bruffy and the Phoenix and Kansas City Chorales have long been outstanding interpreters of this repertory and their performance has a devotional intensity that is often overwhelming. … [B]y the end, you know exactly why it [is] one of Rachmaninov’s favourites among his own works, and why many consider it his greatest." – The Guardian (UK) Read less

Works on This Recording

Vespers, Op. 37 by Sergei Rachmaninov
Performer:  Bryan Pinkall (Tenor), Paul Davidson (Bass), Frank Fleschner (Tenor),
Joseph Warner (Bass), Julia Scozzafava (Mezzo Soprano), Toby Vaughn Kidd (Bass),
Bryan Taylor (Bass)
Conductor:  Charles Bruffy
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Kansas City Chorale,  Phoenix Chorale
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1915; Russia 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  6 Customer Reviews )
 GLORIOUS RACHMANINOFF January 8, 2016 By William S. (Freehold, NJ) See All My Reviews "Robert Shaw, in his Rachmaninoff Vespers, provides a highly professional but only fair sample of this music. Under his direction the music is always cool, detached, and tightly constructed, clean and crisp to an Anglican fault. But the final product lacks the passion, bravado and warmth that individual (Slavic) singers deliver. On the other hand, Charles Bruffy offers an unbelievably idiomatic performance of Eastern Slavic Orthodox music beautifully done by a Western Choir. He brings to it a loving hand, and the requisite elasticity, fluidity, and spontaneity. Quoting from the Website of the Kansas City Chorale and the Phoenix Chorale: Artistic Director Charles Bruffy brought his two GRAMMY-winning ensembles together to record one of the most beautiful pieces of unaccompanied choral music ever composed, and the result is absolutely stunning." Report Abuse
 Can the human voice be so beautiful? October 7, 2015 By A. Lenz (Leverett, MA) See All My Reviews "I am currently listening to another version of the ALL-NIGHT VIGIL, and it is lovely. But this recording sent me to beyond belief. I have never heard a collection of voices so perfect and moving. You may think that this is just another Russian Orthodox hymn sing, but it is not - Rachmaninoff scored it. This is a winner that will endure for many decades (despite climate disruption) because of its transcendent beauty." Report Abuse
 Filling the Soul September 23, 2015 By Alan B. (Bowie, MD) See All My Reviews "For me this music is soothing and healing. I play it repeatedly to have it in the background to set a mood of therapy, and it works." Report Abuse
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