Southern Voices & Rachmaninov: Winchester Cathedral

We like Derek Beck, who wrote the review of the latest Southern Voices’ concert…

“A late evening concert brought Rachmaninov’s All-Night Vigil to the Winchester Festival. Popularly known as theVespers, this opulent setting for unaccompanied voices also adds music for Matins and the first Canonical Hours. In the shadows of the Cathedral nave the piece found its ideal acoustic given its largely slow harmonic rhythms and its multi-layered scoring.
Janet Shell provided the brief mezzo solo in the first psalm and with Andrew Phillips as solo tenor produced appropriately Slavic tone.

Olympian laurels must go to Winchester’s Southern Voices and their conductor Katherine Dienes-Williams for creating a totally convincing and immaculately prepared interpretation of this majestic work. Just over forty singers of this calibre were sufficient to match the dynamic range demanded by the composer with sonorous pianissimos and thrilling fortissimo climaxes even with parts sub-dividing.

There was a suitably ethereal quality to the high soprano chords often accompanying rich chanting from the male voices and the large bass section included singers capable of plumbing the subterranean depths of this typically East European soundscape. Phrases were beautifully shaped and individual (Russian) words caringly underlined with tasteful dynamics. Singing throughout the hour-long composition the choir remained fresh and ever attentive to the nuanced gestures of their director.

Rachmaninov combines ancient Greek and Russian chant with rich early twentieth century harmonies and his endlessly varied scoring for a cappella voices makes for a fascinating and atmospheric listening experience. Here the helpful textual programme notes were supplied by Southern Voices’ founder, Graham Caldbeck, who should be proud of his choir’s achievement and that of his latest successor.”

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