Sergey Rachmaninov

Vespers (All-Night Vigil), for alto, tenor & chorus, Op. 37

    Description by Timothy Dickey

    Sergey Rachmaninov famously recalled the night when he first played the score of his All-Night Vigil for a pair of the most prominent Russian musicians. Nikolai Danilin, who had agreed to conduct the work's premiere, lamented that the basses able to sing his impossibly profundo pitches were "as rare as asparagus at Christmas." Yet the composer replied, "I know the voices of my countrymen!" And he did know both the voices of his countrymen and their deep religious spirit (which not even the Revolution could eradicate). Rachmaninov premiered the Vsenoshchnoye bdeniye (All-Night Vigil, or Vespers Mass) in 1915, amid the privations of World War I. Russian basses were found to sing the parts, and Russians were hailing the Vespers as a masterpiece even before the performance began.

    Though not personally close to the Russian Orthodox Church, Rachmaninov had been throughout his life deeply moved by its music. He evoked Russian church bells frequently in his music, had quoted Orthodox chants in his Symphony No. 1, and achieved large-scale success in an earlier setting of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. His Vespers resembles the earlier work in flavor, but greatly expands its harmonic pallette. The 15 movements of the Vespers together form the core of a well-known Russian Orthodox monastic service; larger churches would also celebrate the Vigil on the night before greater feasts. Its series of texts (in traditional Church Slavonic) include several psalms and the Orthodox versions of the Magnificat, Nunc dimittis, and Greater and Lesser Doxologies. In fully nine of the movements, the composer adapts a rich variety of plainchant melodies: the most ancient "Znamenny" chants, simpler Russian "Greek" chants, and folk-like Kiev chants.

    On the scaffold of these chants the composer hangs a musical tapestry of Byzantine texture, sobriety, and power. Many of his eight-voiced choral textures remain in a flowing and chant-like homophony. His harmonic language is tonally grounded with frequent pedal points, but also rich modal and chromatic inflections. Antiphonal textures (Nos. 2, 8, 10) and liturgical refrains (Nos. 3, 9, 11, 12) evoke the incense-choked atmosperes of the church. At the same time, local text details can inspire him to exsquisite passages, such as the radiant harmonic shift before the first tenor solo (No. 4) and the clusters of angelic melismas at the climax of No. 7. The Orthodox Nunc dimittis (No. 5) closes with a slow bass descent to low B flat; it was Rachmaninov's favorite movement and the music he intended for his own funeral.


    1. O come, let us worship (Venite adoremus; Priidite, poklonimsya)
    2. Praise the Lord, O my soul (Benedic anima mea; Blagoslovi, dushe moya)
    3. Blessed is the man (Beatus vir; Blazhen muzh)
    4. Gladsome Radiance (Svete Tikyi)
    5. Nunc dimittis (Nyne otpushchaeshi)
    6. Ave Maria (Rejoice, O Virgin; Bogoroditse Devo raduisya)
    7. Glory be to God (6 psalms; Shesopsalmiye; Slava V Vyshnikh Bogu)
    8. Praise be the name of the Lord (Laudate Dominum; Khvalite imya Gospodne)
    9. Blessed be the Lord (Blagsloven esi, Gospodi)
    10. The Veneration of the Cross (Voskresenie Khristovo videvshe)
    11. Magnificat (Velichit dusha moya Gospoda)
    12. Gloria in Excelsis (Great Doxology; Slavoslovie velikoe)
    13. The day of salvation (Resurrection Troparion 1, Dnes'spaseni)
    14. Christ is risen (Resurrection Troparion 2, Voskres iz groba)
    15. To the Mother of God (Vzbrannoi voevode)

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 Melodiya MELCD 1002482
    2017 Genuin GEN 17476
    2017 Paraclete GDCD 063
    2016 LSO / LSO Live LSO 0781
    2016 Alto MCS 1315
    2016 Resonus Classics RSN 10169
    2016 Carus CV 83471
    2015 Decca 4787892
    2015 Decca
    2015 Chandos CHSA 5148
    2014 Decca 4786765
    2014 BIS BIS 2039
    2012 Claudio CR 60126
    2012 Ondine ODE 12065
    2012 Harmonia Mundi HMX 290838587
    2011 Nimbus Alliance NI 6250
    2011 Apex 256467658-5
    2010 Hyperion 30016
    2010 Gloriae Dei Cantores 47
    2008 Harmonia Mundi 807504
    2007 Scandinavian Classics 220576-205
    2007 Elatus
    2007 Virgin Classics 91375
    2007 Decca 4758548
    2006 Harmonia Mundi 2907457
    2006 Regis Records 1043
    2005 Harmonia Mundi 907384
    2005 Harmonia Mundi 807384
    2005 Oehms 351
    2005 Haenssler 93112
    2005 Brilliant 6215
    2005 Warner Classics
    2004 Signum UK 054
    2004 Rezound 5011
    2004 Naxos 110067
    2004 Naxos 8555908
    2004 Moscow Studio Archives 18733
    2003 Philips / Polygram 475 227-2
    2003 PentaTone Classics 5186027
    2003 Praga 250176
    2002 Origen Music 5637459432
    2002 Berlin Classics 0017422
    2001 Virgin 61845
    1999 Angel Records / Warner Classics 7243556752
    1998 Le Chant du Monde RUS788050
    1998 Christophorus 00902
    1998 Christophorus 00892
    1996 Capriccio Records 524
    1995 Northeastern NR256-CD
    1995 CPO 999292
    1995 Globe Records 5077
    1995 Virgin 45124
    1995 Melodiya 25188
    1994 Philips 442344
    1992 Le Chant du Monde 288050
    1991 Hyperion 20460
    1991 Hyperion 66460
    1990 Telarc Distribution 80172
    1988 Erato 45269
    BBC Music Magazine 97
    Brilliant Classics 9100
    Balkanton 050096
    Klavier Records KCD11065
    Koch Discover International 920273
    Nimbus 5432
    Itm 950002
    Ensayo 3448
    Russian Disc 11016
    Melodiya 1000105
    Carlton 569147
    Melodiya 68246
    Origen Music
    Melodiya 105
    Balkanton 050055