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Rachmaninov: All-Night Vigil (Clarion Choir)

The Clarion Choir/Steven Fox (Pentatone)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

All-Night Vigil
The Clarion Choir/Steven Fox
Pentatone PTC 5187 019   74:36 mins


When Rachmaninov played the score of his All-Night Vigil to friends, one questioned the bass tessitura worried that singers capable of sinking to a low B flat would prove ‘as rare as asparagus at Christmas’. Steven Fox isn’t deterred; and if his singers get there without quite summoning up an authentically Russian rumble, plumbing the depths in the opening exclamation, Glenn Miller’s solo is the ‘profundo’ real deal. Fox has lived with the work for over 20 years, gaining an intimate understanding of its ever-changing textures. And just as Rachmaninov ‘orchestrates’ with his voices, subdividing them into seven and even eight parts, contriving myriad groupings, so Fox ‘plays’ his choir, moulding the 32 singers into a single expressive instrument, attuned to his silkily nuanced dynamics and careful husbanding of climaxes.

Lovingly sculpted, the refulgent soundscapes glow. They can thrill too – even if the visceral immediacy of the Russian tradition is rendered a little more ‘polite’. The complex layering of ‘Blessed art Thou’ is tellingly nurtured; the many deliquescent cadences beguile; and, prefaced by the Kyiv chant on which it’s based, in the Nunc Dimittis – Rachmaninov’s favourite movement and one he hoped would be sung at his funeral – invested with a quiet longing, John Ramseyer’s solo is swaddled in a gently swaying choral caress.


Paul Riley