Rachmaninov's All Night Vigil, Norwich

CHRISTOPHER SMITH Rachmaninov's All Night Vigil, which apparently should not be called his Vespers, is a sequence of no fewer than 15 liturgical passages set for unaccompanied full choir.

CHRISTOPHER SMITH

Rachmaninov's All Night Vigil, which apparently should not be called his Vespers, is a sequence of no fewer than 15 liturgical passages set for unaccompanied full choir. It makes great vocal demands. So the Jay Singers and the Stevenage Choral Society were wise to join together for this performance at Norwich Cathedral.

The result was a concert of strength and commitment. The conductor was the vivacious Jeremy Jackman, with darting fingers and flailing arms to catch every eye. The two confident soloists were the contralto Carol Eaton and the tenor William Cramer, both making relatively brief but very telling contributions to a work largely entrusted to the chorus.

It combined to impressive effect, particularly after the interval, producing attack and sonority, though at time the basses had to grind on and on in what sounded like rather uncomfortably low gear.

Since the texts were all in Russian, the meaning of the expressive singing was not always clear. So a burst of “halleluias” shone all the brighter. The predominance of male voices at the start of the Magnificat was, on the other hand, something of a puzzle.

To put a little space between the movements, Radio 3's Donald Macleod read paragraphs from Robin Osterley's affectionate sketch of the composer's life. It was informative and amusing, neatly written and artfully presented. But a translation of a text of the Vigil might have added more to our appreciation of the strikingly emotional music that Rachmaninov composed.

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