RACHMANINOFF: All-Night Vigil, Op. 37
MAHLER: Symphony No. 5 in C sharp minor
Rachmaninoff considered his All-Night Vigil (sometimes called Vespers) to be his finest work. This magnificent choral masterpiece has received many recordings, twp of which are on SACD. One is by the St. Petersburg Chamber Choir on Pentatone (REVIEW), the other was a Finnish production conducted by Eric-Olf Söderström on Naxos (REVIEW). This recent recording, made in the Church of the Transfiguration in Orleans, Maine, is excellent in every way. . Engineers have done a superb job in capturing the sound of a large chorus performing in a resonant acoustic. This is among the finer reordings of this music, a deluxe boxed presentation with a separate booklet of notes and the complete text in Russian and English. Fine though this is, my favorite recording is the 1965 Melodiya with the State Russian Choir led by Alexander Sveshnikov, the only recording that has basses capable of singing those low b-flats at the conclusion of the Prayer to for St. Simeon. Fortunately this has now been reissued, reportedly in an inferior transfer. Look for the one on Melodiya. It is definitive. .
Osmo Vänskä has been praised for many of his BIS recordings including symphonies of Beethoven and Sibelius, some of which have been mentioned on this site. Now the Finnish conductor turns his attention again to Mahler. His previous Mahler recoding was Das Llied von der Erde issued more than two decades ago with the Lahti Symphony. Now we have this performance of Symphony No. 5 made June 2016 in Minnesota's Orchestra Hall. Competition is incredibly keen as just about every major conductor has recorded this mighty symphony, sometimes in multiple versions. My favorites are those by Sir Georg Solti, Bernard Haitink (REVIEW) and Valery Gergiev (REVIEW), the latter two available on DVD. Vänskä's approach is methodical rather than inspired, and there little sense of tension, so important in Mahler.. His Adagietto is one of the longest ever (12:36). The Minnesota Orchestra is in top form but there's little excitement in this reading; it is unfortunate the conductor didn't inspire them to do more. If this is the beginning of another Mahler symphony cycle, it is off to a raather unmpressive start.
R.E.B. (June 2017)