For being such utterly beautiful music, this piece doesn't seem to get a whole lot of attention. That's a shame, because you can't help but be captivated by it once you listen. I've written in these pages about the dangers of extolling a composer for a particular section of his work; this unfortunately tends to smother the hidden gems in his or her output. The Vespers aren't exactly hidden, but they aren't clogging the shelves either. Hopefully this excellent release from Ondine will help remedy that.
My benchmark for this work was the great Robert Shaw's a reading of simply ethereal beauty and recorded in France for Telarc. Like everything that team recorded in France (Poulenc, etc), the tonal mastery of the chorus can be offset by less than authentic sounds and some questionably heavy acoustics. Not that I'm about to drop those albums, as they set a choral standard and remain references. Still, Shaw can't be your only choice, and I can warmly recommend this disc, not just as a possible supplement, but maybe a first choice.
Right away, the disc pulls you in with some wonderfully intoned bass chants. These are omitted from the Shaw (and other readings as well) and instantly add a sense of authenticity. So too does the excellent singing of the Latvian Radio Chorus. They sing less smoothly than do Shaw's singers – so do most choirs before or since – but the singing has much more bite and "tang" as result. Tempos are swifter on the Ondine disc, and there is an extraordinary amount of lovely sound without the need to draw anything out or linger. The whole ensemble is impeccably blended, the various Russian intonations have already been mentioned, yet they provide logical bridges for the various sections.
If you own the Shaw and find yourself thrilled, yet occasionally overwhelmed, give this a try. It's just as well sung, maybe better considering the work in question, and Ondine provides its usual high quality sound. I listened in stereo only, but I wouldn't doubt that this Hybrid SACD provides a pretty special experience on high end players. Whatever the format you choose, make this a priority.
Copyright © 2013, Brian Wigman