Review: Rachmaninov’s Vespers concert on 24 October 2015 by Fiona Alsop

Rachmaninov’s All Night Vigil (Vespers) is one of the most exquisite sacred works for unaccompanied voices.

Written a century ago against a backdrop of the First World War and Bolshevik revolution, the deep serenity of this piece comes from the traditional Orthodox chants on which nine of the 15 movements are based.

It is incredibly challenging to sing, placing considerable demands in terms of intonation and breath control. But The Renaissance Choir certainly lived up to their title of The News Best Classical Music Act, with a sublime candle-lit performance.

Conductor Peter Gambie’s spacious approach was well-judged in bringing out the dramatic nuances and devotional intensity.

Movement 5’s celebrated descending scale down to the third B flat below middle C was delivered with authentic Russian resonance by the basses. The work is a dream for altos too and they clearly relished their chance to shine, while the tenors carried high notes with finesse and the upper voices beautifully conveyed the tolling bells of the Nunc Dimitis. While not perfect, the choir’s Slavic pronunciation was most impressive.

Four piano solo works by Rachmaninov beautifully complemented the choral movements, and were performed by Karen Kingsley with great skill and sensitivity.

Image: (c) Rich Bee Photography