On Saturday, September 12th, we had the utmost honour and privilege to hear one of my favourite choral work of all time, The All-Night Vigil, op.37 by Sergei Vasilevich Rachmaninov. This work was composed and premiered in 1915. It is based on the Eastern Orthodox service of Vespers which is served on Saturday evenings and is hymns, prayers, and readings mainly from the Old Testament which are meant to prepare Orthodox Christians for worship on Sunday mornings. Vespers is an ancient liturgical service of the Church. On a personal note, it is this piece of music which is somewhat responsible for my conversion from Protestantism to Orthodoxy. Upon hearing this music for the first time, I was convinced that I had the investiage the depth of this faith tradition. One year later, I was Chrismated and joined the Russian Orthodox Church!
Needless to say, I was fairly excited about the fact that Cappella Romana was going to perform this music which holds a special place in my heart. Cappella Romana has a tradition of excellence when it comes to interpreting liturgical from all traditions of the Christian East. My high expectations for this performance were certainly surpassed. From the very first notes that the choir sung, I was aware that this group’s commitment to Orthodox liturgical music was fantastic. Their choices in tempo and dynamics were completely appropriate and facilitated a deeper meaning of the text being conveyed. In fact, Capella Romana illustrated a strong understanding of the text that they were singing. The ensemble skilfully maintained clarity throughout.
Although the group showed terrific precision in the technical aspects of choral singing, the interpretive and artistic aspects of this performance was equally impressive. A range of dynamics was used to emphasize portions of the text and this was done very well indeed by Capella Romana. There was a fantastic sense of drama at certain points during the performance that kept the listener’s attention.
What I loved most was the way that the choir had interwoven beautiful elements of the Orthodox Liturgy into the music Rachmaninoff had written. The part of the Deacon was sung in formidable fashion by a real Orthodox deacon – Rev. Dr. Nicholas Denysenko. His voice had a warm yet convicting quality to it – which is exactly what a deacon needs amidst the Orthodox services. The guest director was Mark Bailey who was simply wonderful.
This is one of the must stunning choral performances that I have ever heard. Cappella Romana brought us, for one evening, to a place of peace and beauty. The Vesper service is used in the Orthodox Chuch to prepare the faithful for Sunday’s Divine Liturgy and communion. Cappella Romana demonstrated that they understand not only the musical nuances of Rachmaninov’s music but the deeper spiritual meaning in this work as well. All of us in attendance felt that we were unified by the music which is meant to transcend the human experience. Bravo Cappella Romana!
Co-founder and artistic director, Muzewest Concerts