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10 Albums, 10 Days: Rachmaninov’s Vespers (All Night Vigil)

I’ve really been wrestling with what album to post for day #9. But I’m gonna go with one that chronologically belongs back near the beginning of this series somewhere: Rachmaninov’s Vespers (All Night Vigil). An a capella choral composition of settings from the Russian Orthodox’s All-night vigil service, it was reportedly one of Rachmaninov’s favorites of his own works and is a peaceful, stately work of surpassing beauty.

My first encounter with Vespers feels in retrospect like a very “Chris” story. I was probably 12. I was listening to NPR on the radio. (Yes, at 12.) Toward the end of some radio program (probably Fresh Air, but who knows), a music critic was comparing various new recordings of Vespers, pointing out how the Robert Shaw Chorale was perhaps more technically polished, but how the Russian choir recording was more vibrant. What I knew was that it was gorgeous music that I didn’t want to forget.

It was probably a year or two before I bought the CD at a music store. If I recall correctly, this first recording I purchased was by the USSR Ministry of Culture Choir. It was wonderful. I’ve since purchased a couple more versions on CD, and now in today’s world of streaming music I have an overwhelming number of recordings to choose from.

Regardless of which version you listen to, the beauty of the composition shines through, and a read through the translation of the Russian texts reminds you that classical church music isn’t limited to Bach and Handel and their western ilk. This is truly wonderful stuff, and shaped my musical inclinations from a young age. Worth a listen.

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