Rachmaninoff’s All Night Vigil

Date: June 7, 2015
Location: Hong Kong Cultural Centre, Hong Kong.

Rachmaninoff – All Night Vigil, op. 37 (1, 3, 7, 8, 11, 12)

The Hong Kong Bach Choir
Jerome Hoberman, choral director

Rachmaninoff’s seminal work, All Night Vigil, radiates majesty and spiritual warmth in a deeply religious, cathartic experience. The melodic lines, often melancholic, reflect not only Rachmaninoff’s trademark compositional tendency but the mood of the times in which the piece (1915) was composed. War with Germany and Austria-Hungary was at full rage; youngsters were sent to the front lines without training while food and heating fuel were in short supply back home. As casualties mounted and the general population was demoralized, there was a lingering sensation of the Tsarist Russia’s twilight. In this evening, the canticle selections (e.g. selections 1 and 3) reflected some of that sentiment, with The Choir carefully but forcefully setting the somber color tone, sending a chill through our spine. In the brighter passages, The Choir warmed the air with regal prowess. In terms of vocal quality, The Choir ushered in a fine layering of sonority, though even at the fortissimo its voice tended to get sucked up by the concert hall’s dry acoustics, which was not by default suitable for a deeply religious, resonating choral experience. The Choir’s diction was not always crystal clear; the female voices dominated their male counterparts; and the Russian nasal hovered with some artificial unease. Further, any desire to probe deeper into the spirit of the text seemed somewhat distracted by efforts to control intonation, dynamics and overall sectional balance. Overall, the Choir nevertheless made a decent impression with enough harmonic buoyancy and grace, in a relentless work that required a nauseating amount of precision, temperament and conviction. In addition, there seemed to be a conscientious and collective effort to make good music and sound, for which Music Director Jerome Hoberman, often seen tonight steeped into the spiritual vastness of Rachmaninoff’s composition, must be seriously commended. Hoberman’s program notes, meticulously written and filled with a ton of educational information, also left us an excellent example of how to communicate properly with the audience.

The Hong Kong Bach Choir.

The Hong Kong Bach Choir.

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