RACHMANINOV All-night Vigil (Bielecka)
The Rachmaninov Vigil has become one of those works, rather like Mozart’s Requiem, of which one can never have too many versions. And, as with the Mozart, there exists an infinite variety of approaches. Violetta Bielecka summons an entirely convincing performance from the Choir of the Podlasie Opera and Philharmonic, with a characteristically Slavic depth of sound, and there is also an understanding of the dramatic curve of the work, which is less easily apprehended (it is perhaps worth making the obvious point that Poland is a Roman Catholic country with a minority Orthodox population). And here is no linguistic problem, Poles having no difficulty singing in Slavonic.
We begin with the priestly invocation, which serves to frame the piece liturgically, and from then on are treated to a performance which is simultaneously respectful of its liturgical function and of its status as a dramatic choral work. Bielecka is not afraid of slow speeds, as ‘Blagoslovi, dushe moya’ shows, but there is never anything sentimental about this performance. ‘Svete tikhi’ is outstanding, as is the perfectly paced ‘Bogoroditse Devo’. One might even find some of the enthusiasm found in such movements as ‘Khvalite imya Gospodne’ a little overblown but I would rather this than the kind of too-reverential approach that destroys the flow of this essentially text-driven music. And sometimes it pays real dividends, as in the 10th section, ‘Voskresenie videvshe’.
The dramatic momentum never lets up, and this is an extremely important element in any performance of this work: it is all too easy to emphasise the importance of individual sections at the expense of the sense of the whole, and this Bielecka and her singers are careful never to do. The recorded sound (the recording was made at the European Art Centre in Biaystok) is generous, but clarity is never lost.