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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 30 January 2010
I hung on for years to my LP of this wonderful disc in the hope and belief that one day Melodiya would reissue it and I was thrilled when it finally appeared in this handsome new issue. The sound is excellent for 1965 and authenticity infuses every note. I have tried many, many recordings since I first heard this one, and none approaches it - least of all the worthy efforts by British choirs, so shamelessly hyped by my compatriot critics, nor those by Finns or Swedes. The basses in those choirs invariably bring Dr Johnson's dog to mind with regard to that famous low B-flat, more than two octaves below middle C, at the end of the Kiev chant. No choir has ever had such basses nor ever been recorded in such an atmospheric acoustic as here in the State Academic Russian Choir, under Sveshnikov. Nor has any other conductor ever judged the tempi so aptly, nor understood the need to steer a middle course between lugubrious, enervated solemnity and undue haste. Nor have the soloists been matched for their sincerity and beauty of utterance; a fruity, wobbly mezzo such as we hear in Georgi Robev's Bulgarian recording for Vanguard is a disaster - although his tenor is rather good. Far preferable are Klara Korkan's simplicity and Konstantin Ognevoi's plangent, grainy tenor, so Russian in timbre.

If you need to economise, there is a good, rather too brisk but still very Russian-sounding performance of the Vespers by the Ukrainian "Dumka" Choir as part of a super-bargain 3 disc set by Brilliant which also offers the Tchaikovsky Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, but my advice is to acquire this one at all costs. It is redolent of candle smoke, bejewelled golden icons and cavernous, chilly cathedrals - a desert island disc.
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on 13 March 2013
However timorous he might be of Simone Dinnerstein or Eliette von Karajan and her barrels of blue paint, the terror of Father Melchizedek OP (the High Priest of Period Practice) reaches new heights whenever he hears a Russian choir. Many of them are as rough `n' ready as the output of the Stalingrad Tractor Factory. They're worlds apart from the spruce, androgynous, one-voice-per part, diet-choirs which so dominate period practice. The fact that so many of their participants look like Rasputin's love-children, beards and all, must likewise unsettle the unruly cleric. Counter-tenors - heed the dooms of Napoleon and the Big A: stay out of Scythia!

I have no interest in Rachmaninov. There are two exceptions, both of them being masterpieces: the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom and the Vespers. In each of them, one touches the hem of His garment.

In this famous performance of the Vespers, dating from 1965, the USSR State Academic Choir under Alexander Sveshnikov consummate this work like no other. It is a lesson in majesty, numinosity and mysticism. The singing is entirely idiomatic. Normally such performances should not be judged solely on their musical merit. In any event, the array is excellent on this mundane level. And indeed, it is impossible not to marvel at the basses as they descend magisterially to the roots of the earth.

What of the deeper address? It matters not if you are Orthodox, a member of the Old Firm or one of its offshoots or ascribe to another Firm altogether: this music will resonate in that little spark we call a soul. Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, Consul of 391 and one of the last advocates of Paganism in the Empire, declared: "We gaze up at the same stars; the sky covers us all; the same universe encompasses us. Does it matter what practical system we adopt in our search for the Truth? The heart of so great a mystery cannot be reached by following one road only." This recording is not so much a road but an autobahn into the Cloud of Unknowing - so buckle up. Flat-Earthers won't find any respite in the recording: it is excellent.

The Hagia Sophia is the greatest house of worship in the world; it's a sacred site where heaven kisses earth. Nothing else comes close. Its mosaic of Christ Pantocrator, Lord of the Universe, was either destroyed barbarously by the Ottomans or lies deep under layers of plaster. In its absence, one can make do with this performance in its majesty.
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on 10 October 2010
This is THE only one to have. There are other recordings and they are good, but they simply lack the soul (for want of a better word) of this recording. These good card-carrying Party members sing with such fervour that you realise that old Russia never died. The soloists also have a wonderful luminous quality. The emotions are so palpable that one doesn't need to understand the words.

I likewise have and treasure the Melodiya LPs, but it's great to have the CD.
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on 21 December 2010
This an amazing performance with the low bass notes coming through so beautifully. The soloists are fantastic too and there is a wonderful clarity to the performance. It took a year to record this album so that Sveshnikov could get the performance he wanted and the performance is superb - very spiritual and so atmospheric - it is easy to imagine yourself in a Russian cathedral surrounded by candles and incense. Wonderful music, wonderful recording!
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on 6 February 2011
This recording of Rachmaninov's Vespers can be only described as bone chilling, the depth of passion when sung in the original Russian, by a Russian Chorus really makes one cry. The Choral Art's Society of Washington is technically perfect, but lacks the soul and expression in this recording. It has to be the only one available worth buying.
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on 9 November 2011
I am a little reticent about offering a review of this CD and perhaps set my opinion alongside that of people who are more genuinely expert. Although a lifelong lover of classical music choral music has been a neglected area for me. As a teenager a Ukrainian friend used to play me scratchy old russian vinyl records of soviet georgian choirs that were deep and moving. I bought this CD because I wanted to revisit that experience again, and sure enough I found something that was sombre, resonant and moving. The ambience is just incredible, the 1960's recording quality does not detract but adds to the sense of moment and the male voices make a welsh miners choir sound like castratae! There are some higher female voices but personally, I would have preferred to have just the low voices - too late to suggest this to rachmaninov now!.
I'm really pleased to have this CD but it is about as heavy with soviet gravitas as it is possible to be, hardly upbeat!
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on 20 June 2010
I had this in the late 1970 on vinyl. Never got around to converting it, but recently had a yen to hear it again. Looked around online and listened to some of the other versions, but they are all weak and pale by comparison. This is the one and only version of this astonishing piece of music. Unaccompanied Russian voices, full of passion and conducted with such astonishing subtlety create a recording that never fails to bring tears to my eyes. The accoustic is sublime and the interpretation has such nuance of light and shade, pace and intensity as to make it unsurpassable. This is an old recording, but Sveshnikov's interpretation is masterful and the various performers and the State Russian Choir (pre-Glasnost, remember) showcase Russian soul at its very best. Buy it - you so won't regret it.
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on 14 January 2012
I bought this album several months ago. I keep returning to it. It is especially good to play late in the evening - very good to unwind to. The basses are excellent, as are the soloists. I especially like the mezzo soloist in the Greek Chant; she has a beautifully clear voice. There is no instrumental accompanyment, just the human voice. Listening to this, you begin to realise that human beings are amazing creatures: not just for having great vocal talent, but also for their tenacity to spend a year recording it, and for Rachmaninov himself to take only a fortnight to write the entire masterpiece in the first place. A hugely rewarding CD.
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on 4 February 2016
I heard this piece for the first time the other day on a TV programme about Rachmaninov. I was much impressed so bought this CD. It is a very good performance, with a Russian choir and orchestra. Full marks.
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on 7 November 2015
My vinyl version of this recording has dwelt unchallenged in my mind for the last 25 years, so I am buying it again on cd. Even other Russian versions are pale in comparison, I keep waiting for those amazing low basses and they are never there.
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