Written at the most turbulent time in Russian history, the ‘Vespers’ or ‘All night Vigil’ by Sergei Rachmaninov is a veritable cornerstone of the choral repertoire. The composer appeared to be responding to the chaos and suffering all around him in Russia – the catastrophic turmoil of the first World War being waged universally and the impending seismic Russian Revolution. It took Rachmaninov just two weeks to complete the ‘Vespers’ during January and February of 1915. The music employs as its fundamental basis (in 10 out of 15 sections) chants from the Russian Orthodox tradition, or some “conscious counterfeits of the ritual”, as Rachmaninov put it. Throughout the ‘Vespers’, Rachmaninov’s immense compositional skills are on display – exploring a variety of textures, timbres, rhythms and vocal registers - especially requiring the basses to plumb the extreme depths of their range. The entire work is ‘a capella’, and includes solo parts for an alto and a tenor in three of the movements.
The programme will also include several motets drawn largely from composers of the 16th and 17th centuries, including Gesualdo, Lassus and Victoria – reflecting the Passiontide theme.