Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Prom 36: Night Thoughts

Between Tuesday night’s Proms, I just had time to cook and eat my pasta and tomato and mascarpone sauce, come un buon ragazzo. (Last clue!) Perhaps because I wasn’t brought up a western Catholic, let alone in the Byzantine branch, I have always had a slightly guilty love for Orthodox chant. It’s been reinforced over the years by a friend who was brought up in the Greek Orthodox Church (but who, like me, is an atheist) who enthuses about the wonderful sonorities she regularly heard as a child.

It seemed to me, at first, that, besides it being clearly secular (there are Cossackian and traditional Russian rhythms in it, after all) that this performance of the Rachmaninov Vespers from the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and Paul Hillier, was cool in an almost post-modernist way. It was certainly texturally delicate, almost fragile in places, even those wonderful passages from the basses kept very clean, not over-enriched as we might have expected, while the women’s voices were purely ethereal.

Perhaps I will be accused of being fanciful, but it does belong to 1915, and was sung, tonight, almost as a “mass in time of war”. Or, more accurately, “in fear” of war. (That really is lurking, somehow, under the surface of many pieces this year, and predated recent events.) Almost desolate at times; an offer of resignation to God that man has failed yet again, not a demand for attention and aid. And perhaps, who would know the desolation of this in their psyches than the Russians of Rachmaninov’s time, and the inhabitants of those small Baltic States over the last sixty years?

But emotion (purely and entirely musical, I think, not religious, and therefore untrammelled by the dogmas of belief) was palpable from the Estonian choir; not surprising perhaps, if what I have written in the last paragraph has any truth to it at all. It had a terrible beauty to it. I shall keep my recording.

This time, the notes (by Andrew Huth) are informative—hence my only trying to give you a broad impression—and indispensable.

R3 Relay

Prom 36: Rachmaninov: All-night Vigil (Vespers); Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Paul Hillier.

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