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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Rachmaninoff: Russian Easter Vesper Mass; Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom; The Miserly Knight

04/28/2019 1:00 pm
04/28/2019 4:30 pm


Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

Due to the "Old Style" Julian calendar that Eastern Orthodoxy follows Russian Easter falls on this Sunday. That gives me the opportunity to present one of the treasures of Russian Orthodox choral music, Sergei Rachmaninoff's Russian Easter Vesper Mass, Op. 37 and the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Op.31 (1910). The Liturgy music predates Rachmaninoff's better known All Night Vigil Vespers (1915) for Holy Saturday evening, Op. 37, numbers from which were extracted for concert performance. (Curiously, Rachmaninoff was never an observant Orthodox Christian, but he always loved the Old Slavonic monophonic liturgical chants and studied them intensively in preparation for his harmonized choral treatments of them.)

The Vespers treatments have been more frequently recorded. I have presented various recordings of the Op. 37 Vespers at Eastertime in years past. On April 14, 1985 I broadcast a liturgically complete recording of Rachmaninoff's All Night Vigil music. It was styled Evening Service when it was presented on three Musical Heritage Society LPs. The choral forces in this case were the Johannes Damascenus Choir of Essen and the Choir of the Papal Russian College in Rome. All the music of Op. 31 and what other recordings left out of Op.37 was recorded in 1994 for the Austrian Capriccio label. The recording was made in the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia, Bulgaria. Two choral groups participated in the effort, neither of them Russian: the Bulgarian National Choir and the Sofia Orthodox Choir. The two audio CDs and a documentary DVD were issued by Capriccio first in 1996 and again in 2009. I last presented the Mass and Liturgy on Russian Easter Sunday, May 5, 2013.

There will be time remaining to present something else by Rachmaninoff: his hour-long opera in two acts, The Miserly Knight (1904) in its 2004 release on a single Chandos silver disc. The Miserly Knight was recorded in studio production in the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatory with Valeri Polyansky directing the Russian State Symphony Orchestra. The Baron, who is the miser, is bass Mikhail Guzhov. The story of the opera Rachmaninoff derived from one of the four "Little Tragedies" of the nineteenth century Russian writer Alexander Pushkin. The sin of greed is the focus of Pushkin's tale. The Miserly Knight from Chandos I aired previously on Sunday, June 22, 2008.