Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Paul Hillier and mystery of missing movements


Hard on the heels of my post about concerts getting shorter comes the mystery of the missing movements in Rachmaninov’s All-night Vigil. On Friday (May 4) the 2007 Norwich & Norfolk Festival opens with a concert in Norwich Cathedral by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir conducted by Paul Hillier (pictured above).

The first half of the concert is a treasure-trove of Orthodox church music, Kedrov, Pärt, Tchaikovsky and Kreek, although at 28 minutes it is not the most generous of programmes. But then comes the mystery. The second half is the Rachmaninov All-night Vigil Op. 37 with the first two sections of the Matins service (The Six Psalms and Praise the Name of the Lord) omitted. This cut removes just over four minutes of music from a 55 minute work.

The reason for the cut completely escapes me, and a call to the festival organisers came up with no explanation. The newly released recording of the All-night Vigil by the same forces on Harmonia Mundi is, of course, complete. Can any reader solve the mystery of the missing movements?

Stop press: just as I was about to upload this post the following email was received - I'll keep you posted:

Hi Bob, I’m chasing Paul Hillier, the Estonians’ conductor, for the answer to your question about the Rachmaninov.

Meanwhile, I’m delighted that you remain such an avid supporter and follower of the Festival! When I see articles like the one in the Guardian a few weeks ago bemoaning Norwich’s lack of arts festival – despite the fact that we are now one of the dozen largest city festivals in the uk – it takes the support of people like you to remind me why we do it. Thank you.

Best, Jonathan
Jonathan Holloway
Festival Director
Norfolk & Norwich Festival


* On the same path I offer you the ultimate time travel. After the Norwich concert Paul Hillier and the Estonian choir travel to the superb new Perth concert hall in Scotland. On Monday they give a lunchtime concert, the programme is the All-night Vigil!

Now read about another unorthodox take by Paul Hillier on a familiar work
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9 comments:

Garth Trinkl said...

Pliable, I don't believe it correct to call Cyrillus Kreek's music [Slavonic] Orthodox. He was most interested in Estonian and Swedish folk and choral music, and he apparently amassed a personal collection of folk tunes consisting of nearly 6000 recordings. I can't find -- looking quickly -- a direct reference to his formal religion (though his then-wife spoke native Swedish, Russian, German, and Estonian.)

I will try to listen again to Kreek's "Psalm of David" on Paul Hillier's first Baltic Voices album. (I recall listening to it last August.)

Here is a link to a very fascinating essay by Anu Vissel on
Cyrillus Kreek's ethnomusicological work, entitled
"Cyrillus Kreek: The Collection of Folk Tunes and the Estonian Swedes". [One must scroll down the page about a quarter way]:

http://www.folklore.ee/tagused/nr23/summ.htm

Garth Trinkl said...

I can't pass up also sharing this link, with picture, to the Estonian Home Museum of Cyrillus Kreek:

"The exposition introducing the life and creative heritage of Estonian composer Cyrillus Kreek is located in a house at the coast of Viigi, where the composer lived in 1939–1962. Most of his music was composed there. You can enjoy a cup of tea or coffee and listen to the music of C. Kreek at the museum."

http://www.muuseum.ee/en/muuseumid/eesti_muuseumid/by_alphabet?action=details&museum_id=136

Pliable said...

Thanks for that Garth. You are quite right, my words to describe the first half of the programme were not well chosen.

It's funny, when I saw your name before I read your comments I was sure you were going to solve the mystery of the missing movements before Paul Hillier did.

Pliable said...

What an interesting path. Garth's comments prompted me to play a CD by another Estonian composer who has featured in Paul Hillier's Baltic Voices series, Urmas Sisak.

Sisak was born in 1960 and his Gloria Patri ... is a sequence of 15 meditative and tranquil hymns for mixed choir a cappella.

Ravishingly beautiful contemporary choral music. The chamber choir is Eesti Project conducted by Anne-Liis Treimann. I think it is the only CD in the catalogue solely devoted to Urmas Sisak's music, it's on Finlandia 8573-82587-2.

Don't miss it.

Garth Trinkl said...

pliable, you should know by now that I operate almost strictly
by indirection ...

I did, in fact, look earlier at the timings on the Harmonia Mundi new recording (which you link), and thought that programmers might think the movement title "The Six Psalms" not audience-friendly; and that they decided to trim the "Praise the Name of the Lord" movement as well, to reduce the performance length by a little under 10%. (I hate to sound like a programmer.)

I don't know enough about Slavonic Orthodox liturgy to offer anything more scholarly.

I did think that reserving the full work for the second half of a program rather unwise. You and others may disagree.

I have heard two numinous concert
performances of the work here -- once at the smaller, downtown
Catholic Cathedral in Washington where John F. Kennedy's funeral was held; and once at the far grander, Episcopalian 'National Cathedral'. I recall that the first was by candlelight. Both were under Mstislav Rostropovich.

The second became the basis for the Rostropovich Erato "live" recording of the early 1980s.

Here is an interesting, and
topical, extract regarding the work from choral expert Carl Stover, posted at the Amazon site:

..."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." ...

Garth Trinkl said...

p.s. To be 'perfectly clear', I hope that your On An Overgrown Path post will prompt Mr Hillier to perform the complete Rachmaninoff Vespers at your Norwich Cathedral this Friday, including movements 7, 8, 10, and 14.

Wish I could be there for such a promising, spiritual, long mid-Spring evening concert!

(I just now looked at the details of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival site for this Friday night, and the cuts to the Rach Vespers seem more like 9 minutes, or 17%, rather than less than 10%. Still, I think the cuts unwise and smack of marketing, rather than spiritual culture and art. ... I have to run now to see your Royal Shakespeare Company perform Coriolanus.)

Pliable said...

Garth, your analysis is quite correct - I have underestimated the cuts. The omitted sections remove more than nine minutes of music from the All-night Vigil reducing it to 45 minutes.

With a first half of 28 minutes, and ticket prices at £23 ($45) it is difficult to see the justification for these cuts.

It should be made clear that the cuts have nothing to do with the Norfolk and Norwich Festival. The Estonian Choir was scheduled to sing two concerts in London before the Norwich date, although these concerts were cancelled. The programme for their cancelled St John Smith Square gave the programme as Rachmaninov Vespers (complete) and Matins (selections) from the All Night Vigil.

Looks like a case of Rachmaninov’s greatest hits.

Garth Trinkl said...

Thanks, pliable.

Again, I think that it is VERY sad that the integrity of the Rachmaninoff All Night Vigil is being violated, and I hope that Mr Hillier will reverse this decision and perform the full 54 minute Vigil on the second half of the Norwich Cathedral program. Perhaps Mr Hillier was trying to offer too much of an unnecessary sampler on the first half; and if the comfort and safety of his singers voices, on tour, was his overriding concern, perhaps he could have shortened the first half a bit, IF ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY, and began the second half after a pause, rather than intermission/interval.

(I also wonder about the lengths of the works -- increasingly new classical works -- used to open performances of Beethoven's Sym #9. Usually they are less than 15 minutes, I believe.)

Mr Hillier and the Estonians, and such English groups as the Tallis Scholars, visit Berkeley almost every, if not each, year; and I had been on the look-out for Paul Hillier and his Estonian Choir doing the full Rachmaninoff All Night Vigil because I wanted to buy my mother a ticket. I will make sure NOT to purchase a ticket for her -- a similar $45 -- if I now think that the ensemble will be performing a truncated, non-integral version of the Vigil -- (which is too much like the awful practice of performing movements from classical works on the newly, but improperly, restored Classical WETA-FM Lite, public classical radio station, here in Washington, D.C.).

I trust, and hope, that when the Russian Patriarchate Choir, under
Anatoly Gridenko, tours to Berkeley and elsewhere this coming fall, that they will not be compromising the integrity of the major Slavonic Orthodox works in their traditional repertoire.

Thanks for flagging this highly important issue of artistic integrity, performance practice, touring, and marketing. Good luck getting the nine minute Vigil gap restored by tomorrow evening!!

*

[And thanks for kindly clarifying the difference between the Vespers and the All Night Vigil, which I knew, but failed carefully to distinguish above, in my haste. I recall, late yesterday afternoon, quickly checking the Hillier Harmonie Mundi movement titles against the Rostropovich Erato titles, in French, and seeing that they roughly corresponded -- with the Hillier 'Six Psalms' becoming 'Exapsalme' on the Erato. At the Amazon site they conflate the distinct Vespers and Matins sections by referring to the full Opus 37, under discussion here, as 'Vespers (All-Night Vigil), for alto, tenor & chorus, Op. 37.']

*

PS. Given the marketing mouthful of "Rachmaninov Vespers (complete) and Matins (selections) from the All Night Vigil," originally programmed for St John Smith Square, wouldn't it have simply been easier to perform the extra 9 minutes?

Pliable said...

Email received

Just found this review of a concert the Estonians did in 2002 under the previous conductor. Seems common for them to drop a few numbers from the All-Night Vigil. Strange.

from http://www.newworldclassics.com/estonian.htm
TORONTO STAR
Feb. 27 2002, 01:00 EDT

Estonians in splendid voice with Rachmaninoff

Geoff Chapman
Music Critic

The spell of Rachmaninoff's Vespers is potent indeed, especially when first-rate choristers address its challenges in an unflinching manner.

The sound of the sable-smooth a capella Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir under founder-conductor Tõnu Kaljuste last night at a jam-packed Metropolitan United Church surely delighted followers of the ancient Eastern Orthodox liturgy, and equally surely it must have made its mark on non-believers.

On the only Canadian stop during a North American tour, the 27 singers delivered a searching, fully committed treatment of the Russian composer's splendiferous sacred composition, bringing richness and power to this music of colour and ceremony.

Kaljuste offered 10 of the 15 individual numbers that comprise the work, prizing interior reflection and careful shaping of this immense sonic structure over a brilliant surface, though there were incandescent moments and times when all seemed ineffably red-blooded.

With spectacular low voices and thrusting tenors among the 15 male and 12 female singers, the composer's demand for purity of timbre was well met. By dividing voices and exploiting extremities of pitch and dynamic, Rachmaninoff enriched the texture, so that it was relatively easy for the choir to become rhapsodic in its rapture.

The deep sense of yearning in these sections of the work, which is also known as the "All Night Vigil," was made wondrously apparent, a fierce "Laudate Dominum" followed by the dramatic "Story Of The Resurrection," an exultant hymn and a munificent "Magnificat" as Kaljuste induced his charges to unlock storehouses of electrifying passion.

The second half of the concert was devoted to more informal pieces created by Veljo Tormis that draw on legend, folk song and ancient epics, which guarantees a degree of melancholy. The undoubted highlights were "Litany To Thunder," based on a 17th century prayer for rain, and "Curse Upon Iron," whose roots are in long-ago shamanism. Tenor Mati Turi and bass Allan Vurma carried the quirky narrative and Kaljuste added theatrical percussion.

Last night's concert will be broadcast on CBC this Sunday and on April 28. Tonight at 8 at the same venue the choir is joined by the Elmer Iseler Singers for a concert of works by Estonian hero Arvo Part and Canadian composers John Estacio and James Wolfe.