For the first concert of its new season, Portsmouth Choral Union will be joining forces with The Renaissance Choir to perform Rachmaninov’s sumptuous “Vespers” on Saturday 29 October in Portsmouth Anglican Cathedral.
The work comprises a glorious tapestry of wide-ranging vocal textures including soaring sopranos and subterranean basses, and rich harmonies supporting wonderful melodies based on Eastern European Orthodox traditions.
Rachmaninov’s sacred choral masterpiece is rightly regarded by many musicians as being the finest example of Russian sacred music. It was written in 1915 against a backdrop of political uncertainty in his homeland as the Bolshevik revolution was in its infancy and when World War 1 was at its most destructive. It contains an astonishing serenity, tranquillity and peacefulness.
The work is the setting for the important rite of the Orthodox Church, the office of Vespers, the sunset evening prayer service (also known as Evensong). It is hugely loved by singers: it uses a joyful arrangement of Slavonic vowels and clusters of consonants that convey the meaning of the words. It is challenging to sing, especially as it is written in the Church Slavonic language.