Sergei Rachmaninov is said to have prized his setting of the Vigil Service -- Vespers and Matins in the liturgy of the Russian Orthodox Church -- above all his other compositions. His opinion is fully justified.
The Vespers, as it is commonly called, is a magnificent edifice, glorying in the sound of unaccompanied human voices filled with that particular sense of awe that is peculiar to the great Russian liturgical music of such masters as Rachmaninov, Gretchaninov, Arkangelsky, and Tchesnokov. The Rachmaninov Vespers last night filled Washington Cathedral with the special kind of glory that is heard only in this music.
Mstislav Rostropovich conducted Norman Scribner's superb Choral Arts Society in the work and provided the enormous audience with a sound that has not been heard in this city before for the simple reason that no other chorus has undertaken this tremendous assignment. The basses descended fearlessly and with immense effect to the low C's and B flats below low C, while the tenors, equally undaunted, rose to a top B flat with a sound of pure gold.
Rostropovich conducted the music in a way that conveyed all the intense religious emotion that pervades every measure. The chorus was unflagging in its beauty of sound, its Slavic enunciation, and its unwavering fidelity to intonation. Mary Claire Richardson's contralto and Gene Tucker's tenor were elements of added luster. The work will be broadcast on WETA-FM on Jan. 13. As one of the notable events in Washington's musical history, it should not be missed.