The best "Vespers" ever recorded
Glenn Stover | San Francisco, CA USA | 12/04/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This recording, from the early 1980s, was the one that set off the Rachmaninoff Vespers recording and performing craze. Choral Arts Society Music Director Norman Scribner collaborated with then-National Symphony Music Director Mstslav Rostropovich in creating this landmark recording. In his youth, Rostropovich obtained a hand-written manuscript of the score by Rachmaninoff himself as a gift from his friend and mentor, Sergei Prokofiev, who studied with Rachmaninoff in the latter's waning years. Another reviewer's reflection that the interpretation of certain motets is too "dance-like" runs counter to the report of Prokofiev to Rostropovich that Rachmaninoff himself had indicated the dance-like intentions he had in certain portions of the Vespers. When it was released, students of Old Church Slavonic around the world raved at the precise diction and perfect pronunciation of the Choral Arts Society. Alto Maureen Forrester produces the perfect "Earth Mother" timbre that Rachmaninoff also commented to Prokofiev about. Tenor Gene Tucker was coached by Rostropovich in creating the ethereal tone he uses throughout, another direct reflection from the composer himself. The recording also received a Grammy nomination for its technical perfection, especially impressive in a "live" recording in Washington's National Cathedral. Music Director Scribner was a great friend of Robert Shaw, who rushed out a recording soon after this one, in his enthusiasm over the superlative tone painting Rachmaninoff employed in these motets, and inspired by Rostropovich's gorgeous interpretation and the Choral Arts Society's impressive virtuosity. Shaw's recording, unfairly, became the most popular recording of the composition, and the superior Choral Arts version is, oh so sadly, now out of print. If you are a true enthusiast and scholar of the composer or the composition, this is the one recording you will want to have in your collection."
Listen for flavor, not perfection
Stephanie DeChambeau | St. Louis, MO USA | 09/29/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I greatly enjoy this recording, not because it's done "perfectly" (whatever that means) but because Rostropovich brought out a truly Russian sound from an American choir. No offense to the late, great Robert Shaw, but the Atlanta recording is too pristine for my taste. It doesn't have the Russian character, not to mention that it DOES have Shaw's infamous (and sometimes infuriating) playing with tempo.
There are places in this recording where a voice or two sticks out and a few places where the group gets a tad bombastic. But there are also moments of absolute sublime beauty, such as Movement #4. It moves me to tears even after the 250th listening. Overall this is a wonderful recording that makes me think I'm hearing essentially what Rachmaninov intended."
Gabe Monforte | 01/18/2000
(1 out of 5 stars)
"I often collect more than one performance of a work to compare performances. This CD broke my heart. It now serves as an example of what not to do. The singing is bad, the dynamics overdone, and the liturgical reverence is totally ignored. Most of the tracks are performed in a folksy dance-like fashion (which belong on a dance floor and not in a church), is totally the opposite of how Russian Church Music should be sung. The shouting on track 9 I found unacceptable. The alto soloist on track 2 is too operatic. The tenor soloist is a little better, however. About the best thing on the CD is the diction. To make matters worse, the negative for the cover photo was reversed, so the Holy Trinity Monastery Cathedral on the front cover is backwards! For a good performance of Rachmaninov's Vespers, I recommend Robert Shaw's recording."