BBC Radio 4

by Glenn on January 16, 2018

Since listening to the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols on Christmas Eve, I’ve been turning to BBC Radio 4 from time to time, usually on weekends. The news that you hear isn’t any more hopeful than what you hear on NPR, but I find the remove from American politics and the dry humor refreshing. This past weekend one of the announcers introduced a program with words along the lines of, “As we get over our disappointment that the American president won’t be visiting us next month, we turn to …”

It’s other programs and voices that I find refreshing.

I’ve discovered that the BBC has its own news quiz, in a somewhat different format though along the lines of NPR’s “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me,” the one NPR show I listen to with any regularity. I’ve only heard two editions of this news quiz, but it’s interesting to hear the British talk about their single-payer health plan and to listen to them discuss so many different politicians. Here, we tend to focus almost exclusively on Mr. Trump (or whichever president is in power). I suspect that power in their government is more diffuse, therefore there are more players.

This weekend on BBC Radio 4, I heard a lovely program about Leonard Cohen’s song, “Hallelujah.” I don’t remember my first exposure to the song, but I remember a particularly heartbreaking moment on The West Wing (Season 3 Finale, “Posse Comitatus”) where the song was featured.

But the piece that I’ve been thinking about the most, though,  was a commentary by Howard Jacobson titled, “The Frozen Wastes of Emojiland.” This is a meditation by Jacobson on dramatic speech and social media.

Jacobson begins his commentary quoting one Julia Holmes who didn’t like what was written on the new £10 note. It was a quote “by” Jane Austen,

“I declare, after all, there is no enjoyment like reading.”

Ms. Holmes thought it “a strange choice.” The problem is that while Jane Austen wrote that, she didn’t really “say” it. The words belong to Caroline Bingley from Pride and Prejudice, who is, according to Jacobson, “a woman of surpassing shallowness.” She is “saying only what she thinks Mr. Darcy would like to hear her say.”

And so Jacobson riffs on the nature of dramatic speech, the words of which “are as true or false as the person speaking them in the context of who they are spoken to and why.” Literature is different from a sermon or tract. Art is different from ideology.

Jane Austen didn’t say, “I declare, after all, there is no enjoyment like reading.” The same think happens with Shakespeare, Jacobson continues. He was “a dramatist not a philosopher.” The aphorisms that we quote actually belong to his characters. One of the most famous is:

“This above all: to thine own self be true
And it must follow, as the night the day
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

Sounds like great advice. And it might be. Except that Jacobson points out, rightly, that “authenticity” is only a virtue “if the self in question is worth being true to.” In this case, Shakespeare’s Polonius, from Hamlet, is a gas bag. What does Gertrude in exasperation say to him at one point? “More matter, with less art.”

Jacobson makes two points. One is that we need to recognize dramatic speech.

In my car these days, I am listening to the collected speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In his “Eulogy for the Martyred Children,” a speech from 18 September 1963, King concluded with,

“Shakespeare had Horatio to say some beautiful words as he stood over the dead body of Hamlet. And today, as I stand over the remains of these beautiful, darling girls, I paraphrase the words of Shakespeare:  Good night, sweet princesses. Good night … And may the flight of angels take thee to thy eternal rest.”

Probably among the least significant things to appreciate about Dr. King is the fact that he recognizes dramatic speech and uses it appropriately. But I do appreciate it.

Years ago I remember struggling with a book by a Christian author. It was one of those “You’ve got to read this” books that people tell you about. The book was saying we need to tell more stories and use less propositional truth. And for a conclusion they turned to the balcony scene of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, which the author described as “the most beautiful explanation for the gospel of Jesus ever presented.” The author continues, “In this scene, Juliet may be considered the Bard’s Christ figure, and Romeo the embodiment of the church, thus presenting Shakespeare’s opinion of a Christian conversion experience.”

That, it seems to me, is not the way to recognize dramatic speech. I don’t have a problem with using the love of Romeo and Juliet as an analogy to describe the love between Jesus and the church, but it seems a stretch to say that this was “Shakespeare’s opinion of a Christian conversion experience.” I wish they had left Shakespeare out of it.

The second point Jacobson makes is critical of social media, which “has reduced all discourse to a shout.” He calls this a “thumb up or thumb down culture.” There are some great lines near the end of this commentary, which is worth listening to again (which I have done a couple of times, now):
“Before we attack,” make sure “it’s views that are being expressed.”
“Thought is not an act of war.”
“A joke is not a manifesto.”
“Insults are not conversation.”
“Differences in opinion come in shades.”

I am grateful for radio/listening that forces me to think.

 

A Happy Viennese New Year

by Glenn on January 9, 2018

If the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols makes me wish I were English, the Vienna Philharmonic’s New Year’s Concert makes me ready to learn German and move to Austria.

I had to watch this year’s Vienna Philharmonic New Year’s concert in bits and pieces. I couldn’t find a complete stream that wasn’t blocked in The United States. And the ones I watched appear to have disappeared or are no longer available. About all that’s left is one of the encore pieces, “On the Beautiful Blue Danube.”

The opening of this concert was one of the most gentle and graceful that I remember. No overture to create drama, but a march, “Entrance March from the Operetta The Gypsy Baron,” which was more celebrative than militant, more elegant than triumphant. If it hasn’t been blocked, a low-rez version can be seen here.

There is an “always the same, never the same” feeling to this annual New Year’s Concert. Obviously, the waltz is the focal point, but sometimes there are some other things included to grab our attention.

For example, there may be a focus on a certain composer outside the Strauss family—for example, Tchaikovsky back in 2012.

That same year, kids were featured.

In 1987 (and at least one other year that I can’t recall), the Lipizzaner Stallions were included.

And there is ballet to accompany the dance music. In 2014, it seemed like the costumes for the ballet dancers were louder than the music.

This year it felt like the focus was on purity and simplicity. It was all about the music. When there were cut-aways to views of Vienna/Austria or to dancers, they accented but never overpowered the music.

The Vienna Philharmonic chooses who will be their conductor for these New Year’s concerts. Riccardo Muti made his fifth appearance this year after previously conducting in 1993, 1997, 2000, and 2004.

It would be great to watch a rehearsal to see how the conductor interacts with the music and the orchestra. How much has to be rehearsed? vs. How do you stay out of the way? How much does a conductor try to put a stamp on this music? It would also be interesting to hear musicians talk openly but respectfully about what it’s like to play for various conductors. Presumably, the conductors they choose are because they want to play for them. What is it about them that is so appealing as a performer?

With Mr. Muti, my sense is that he wants to shape the line and let the musicians take care of the rhythm. He is leading, but (wisely) allows the orchestra to play its way (because it will anyway?).

In an interview back in Chicago this past fall, Mr. Muti (who conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra) spoke about his preparation for these concerts. I love what he had to say about the waltz:

“I can conduct a waltz, but I cannot dance a waltz. Sometime many years ago, my wife tried to convince me to, but then I was dancing on her feet, so she said, ‘That’s enough,’ and we stopped. But I find it very natural to conduct the waltz, but as pure music. The waltz is always in three: one, two, three; one, two, three. But the Viennese joke that the Viennese waltz is: one, two and maybe three; one, two and maybe three! There is a sort of hesitation or rubato that is not easy. You can try to imitate, but then it becomes a caricature of what for the Viennese is so, so natural. I’m sure I don’t have any Viennese blood, but on the other hand, as the Viennese used to say, ‘Who is a Viennese?’ A Viennese is a combination of Italian, Austrian, German, Czech, Hungarian, the former Yugoslavia, it is the combination, a melting pot of central Europe.

“What is important when you do the Viennese waltz is that you must feel that it is a combination of life and death. We must not forget that this music has a nostalgia, a melancholy, that comes from the period, that we are near the end of an empire. Not only do you feel this in the music of Bruckner, but the music of Mahler, and before that, in the music of the Strauss family: that something is about to disappear. And so it’s a combination of life and death, of smiles and tears together. That is the most difficult part of this kind of waltz. They are not full of joy. Maybe this is one of the reasons why on the first of January, this music enters into the homes of every county in the world and fits perfectly with the atmosphere of the New Year because there is a hope for the future that is coming, and yet a nostalgia for the past that is gone.”

I’ve always had a melancholy feeling about the waltzes, but I had never put words to it and certainly didn’t have that understanding.

The program is as much a Viennese travel brochure as it is a concert. Josef Strauss’ Wiener Fresken (Viennese Frescos), Waltz, op. 249 served as an occasion to show off the magnificent Austrian National Library in Hofburg. (Video no longer available.)

The video shown during the intermission is pure genius—this year it was a romantic story serving as an excuse for an architectural tour of Vienna, especially the creations of Otto Wagner, which provided an opportunity for underscoring by phenomenal instrumentalists from the Vienna Philharmonic. The whole thing is magnificent—beautiful and serene.

It’s sad that this part of the program is not part of the Great Performances presentation on PBS. For that matter, there is only a portion of the concert included with what we see here. I noticed the whole concert is on the BBC, but that, too, is not available here in the States.

The highlight for me this year was the playing of two instrumentalists. First, the harpist who got to shine in Myrthenblüten (Myrtle Blossoms), Waltz, op. 395.

Second was the zither player (is that zitherist?), who the program indicates was Barbara Laister-Ebner, who was featured in the waltz, Tales from the Vienna Woods, op. 325. She can be seen here, but I’m pretty sure this is someone with a video camera recording what is on television, without a tripod.

The only time I’ve heard the Vienna Philharmonic live was at the Hollywood Bowl more than thirty years ago (14 September 1987). I’m not sure that’s the place to actually “hear” them since there is the interpolation of sound reinforcement between their playing and our ears. Plus I’m not sure I knew anything then (based on how little I seem to know today), other than it was visually stunning to watch the violins move as a unit as they played.

 

A Great Tradition: A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols

by Glenn on December 28, 2017

One of the traditions I’ve observed consistently over the years is listening to the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College, Cambridge on Christmas Eve. The 3:00 pm start time in England translates to 7:00 am Pacific time, which may be the reason I’ve been able to be so consistent with it over the years.

One of the perks of owning a print shop is you can make your own program.

 

Among the reasons I tune in each year is that it’s done so well. So much of the music of the Church around Christmas time is sad. It’s un-singable because the keys are not amenable to congregational singing or it’s so poorly put together that it’s hard to sing or it’s so loud you don’t feel any sort of need to sing (or may not want to be in the room to protect your hearing).

And so the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is a respite. It’s an acoustic phenomenon and I look forward to it each year. Coming on the eve of Christmas, it’s a chance finally to engage musically with Christmas with nothing in the way.

So many things are remarkable:

1. I am not familiar enough with choral music utilizing boy sopranos, but I am impressed with the way Dr. Stephen Cleobury can get children to sing so excellently.

2. I’m stunned every year by the outright religious nature of this program. The Christian faith is intertwined with the government of England and there doesn’t seem to be a problem.

Our local classical radio station advertised that they would carry it live, but I listened to it on BBC 4 radio. After the opening song, “Once in Royal David’s City,” the Dean read a prayer and then invited the millions (?) of people listening around the world to pray “the words which Christ himself hath taught us.”

Here in the U.S. I know many people for whom separation of church and state serves to protect people from the church and not the other way around. For them the Church is the institution people need protection from. I can’t imagine NPR carrying a service like this. The closest thing I can remember was the memorial service in Washington National Cathedral following 9/11.

3. While the nine Biblical texts are the same each year and while the program always opens with “Once in Royal David’s City” and concludes with “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” the genius of this service is how different it feels each year. My knowledge of choral music in the Church of England, especially music utilizing boy sopranos, is quite limited, but it seems to me that subtle emphases can make each year feel very different. This year there appeared to be a theme of honoring previous directors of music by including their arrangements.

As usual, for the most part I enjoyed the remarkable diction of the various speakers. Why is it that people with an accent always sound so much more intelligent?

As far as the spoken word, this year wasn’t perfect. As the Dean led us through the “Our Father,” he forgot to stop and added a “For thine is the kingdom,” before he caught himself. And one of the speakers, “a representative of the City of Cambridge,” stumbled a bit. But he read in highly accented English, leading me to believe English was not his first language (Spanish?). These momentary glitches were completely human and didn’t take anything away from anything.

The Invitatory Carol was “In the Bleak Midwinter” (words by Christina Rosetti) using the tune of Harold Darke. I was really looking forward to this and it didn’t disappoint. I know that this carol is also set to music by Gustav Holst, but I prefer the Darke:

First verse: treble voices.
Second verse: four parts.
Third verse: a baritone soloist.
Fourth verse: four parts.

The tune is magical and the variation between verses is lovely counterpoint.

Of course, this song introduces the problem with Christmas traditions, which is that they aren’t always quite true to the actual event of Christmas, the incarnation of God into our world as a baby.

1. While this version of “In the Bleak Midwinter,” is among my favorite carols, the problem is that snow really doesn’t fit into the Christmas narrative. Jesus most likely wasn’t born on December 25 or anytime in the winter. (For my part, I say that December 25 is the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus not that Jesus was born on December 25.) We have a Northern-European view of Christmas, but even if Jesus was born on December 25, in Palestine it doesn’t seem likely that we’ll find “snow upon snow, snow upon snow.” And if we did, would shepherds be out in the fields keeping watch over their flocks by night? While we may be “dreaming of a White Christmas,” the first one wasn’t.

2. And then there’s the idea that angels have wings. I don’t think it’s a Biblical notion, but two of the songs talked about Gabriel’s wings:

—“The angel Gabriel from heaven came, / his wings as drifted snow …”
—“Great Gabriel, God’s angel bright, / from high above came winging …”

3. As far as three kings, we don’t know that there were three, it’s just that they brought three gifts so it’s assumed each brought one. And for whatever reason the three kings, like nativity sets, are placed in Bethlehem on Christmas night with the shepherds.

4. Finally, I don’t understand “I Saw Three Ships.” Don’t know what’s going on in that song, though it has a wonderful lilt to it.

For whatever reason, I’m able to set all this aside and simply enjoy the readings and the music. It’s an especially metaphor-rich environment. There’s usually a reference to Christ as an apple tree, which I didn’t hear this year. Instead it was “A Spotless Rose,” which followed the reading from Isaiah 11. I guess it’s assumed that the the branch that grows out from the stem of Jesse is a rose bush.

“Little Lamb, who made thee?” with music by J. Tavener I didn’t like the first time I heard it. But I’ve heard it a number of times over the years and it has grown on me. The poetry by William Blake was one of my favorites from my British Literature class in college.

In spite of the tension I feel between the actual event Christmas intends to celebrate and the extra-Biblical ideas which cloud that event, I remain grateful for traditions like this.

An on demand rebroadcast appears to be available here.

SS No. 65 | Haydn No. 93

by Glenn on December 23, 2017

Franz Joseph Haydn
Symphony No. 93 in D Major

Adagio—Allegro assai
Largo cantabile
Menuetto: Allegro
Finale: Presto ma non troppo

first performance: 17 February 1792
The Hanover-Square Concert Rooms, London

Ádám Fischer
Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra

Sir Colin Davis
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra

Before there were “rock stars,” there was Franz Joseph Haydn who, late in life, after his golden age of artistic accomplishment ended in the palace of Esterházy with the death of Prince Nicholas Esterházy, was brought to England by Johann Peter Salomon to present his music to Londoners. The twelve symphonies beginning with No. 93 are known as the “London” symphonies, created for his trips to England. Haydn and this batch of symphonies were very popular. Concerning these symphonies, Michael Steinberg indicates,

“they are bigger, more grandly orchestrated, more brillinatly composed, deeper, and funnier than anything Haydn had done in the genre before. After London, Haydn wrote no more symphonies, and the London twelve were sufficient to keep his Viennese audiences entertained for a while.”

i.

Long notes up front build suspense. We know the first movement will have some forward momentum, but this slow opening takes us on a journey through keys near and far. Big cadences add intensity. When the movement begins, the opening melody is absolute charm. The second tune feels like it has origins in dance.

ii.

The string quartet opening is beautiful and contrasting. It doesn’t repeat, so you have to enjoy it while it lasts. It’s gorgeous. The woodwinds are allowed to shine with the restatement. An oboe obligato near the end of the movement is both surprising and delightful. And the bassoon’s “moment” is hysterical. So much humor and wit or, perhaps, mild impertinence.

iii.

Steinberg describes this movement as “vigorous, very physical,” which is just right. Where the dance music in the opening movement is light, in the trio staccato eruptions from trumpets and drums provide a different sort of dialogue.

iv.

Again, a contrast, which is an operating principle for the symphony at this point in history. In the middle section, the woodwinds are allowed to shine soloistically. Steinberg declares the ending of the symphony “must have been the most brilliant and energetic London had ever heard.” Further, the end of this symphony was studied by Beethoven who applied lessons learned to his D Major Symphony No. 2.

*  *  *

It’s been a while since my last formal listening—Shostakovich Symphony No. 5—but it’s interesting how this idea of and overall design for a musical work consisting of four contrasting movements will be largely the same over the course of 140 years or so while what composers do within the mold wil change dramatically over the years. I used to think, “Poor Haydn, if only he knew what Beethoven, Dvořák, et al would do with his music, maybe he would have done something different.” But the more I listen to Haydn in juxtaposition to what more modern composers have done, the more enjoyable I find his whole enterprise and I can understand why so many are included on Steinberg’s list. It’s a bit like the homes of Frank Lloyd Wright, which are unique from other homes but are thoroughly individual when compared to each other.

The two performances I listened to were terrific. I may try to find a performance by an orchestra with period instruments, but I have no complaints about what I heard. Phenomenal playing.

 

SS 64 | Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5 in d minor

by Glenn on October 22, 2017

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–1975)
Symphony No. 5 in d minor, Op. 47

Moderato
Allegretto
Largo
Allegro non troppo

first performance: 20 July 1937
Leningrad Philharmonic | Yevgeny Mravinsky

It’s challenging enough to be an artist. You need to get paid. And, ideally, you get paid from the act of creating the art itself. I suppose you could be independently wealthy or happy with your day job, so who cares if your art makes any money but, normally, as an artist you have an idea for this thing you want to create and your central challenge is to get someone to pay for it or, at the very least, pay attention to it. Which means you don’t exist in a vacuum. You live with this tension of “I want my art to be true to myself” and “I need to people to like ‘my’ art”. Your art must please someone. Or, as Bob Dylan said it so profoundly, “You’ve got to serve someone.” That’s the realm where the artist who is paid for his work largely functions. Read the rest of this entry »

SS No. 63 | Shostakovich: Symphony No. 4

by Glenn on October 17, 2017

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–1975)

Symphony No. 4 in c minor, Op. 43

i. Allegretto poco moderato—Presto
ii. Moderato con moto
iii. Largo—Allegro

I listened to a recording by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy.
Recorded: Walthamstow Assembly Hall | January 1989
Label: London | D-125172

Cover artwork for Shostakovich's Symphony No. 4, performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy. Read the rest of this entry »

Learning to Enjoy “Ristening” Again

by Glenn on October 10, 2017

At 54, I feel a certain anxiety about, among many things, the short list of books I read each year and, cumulatively, looking at the limits of age and time will never read this side of eternity. On the one hand, I do read some books every year which puts me, according to this study, in the 70th percentile, above those people who have not  touched even one book this year.

The same study referenced above says that Americans read an average of 12 books a year. This number is skewed, though, because the median number of books read is four, indicating that at least some people who read books read lots of books. The number that was important to me was the 17 books per year read by college graduates. I’d like to be better than average.

Over the Christmas holiday in 2015 Read the rest of this entry »

Sabrina: In the World and of the World

by Glenn on September 17, 2017

I like to think of old movies as a kind of refuge for the Christian. When they were produced, there were standards of decency which, in comparison to what is commonplace today, are not overtly inconsistent with the life of faith.

Overtly.

Still, it’s remarkable how you cannot always accept the tenets even of older films. Though they may not indulge in the coarse language, nudity, and overt sexuality that have been culturally normalized in my lifetime, they are not presentations of the gospel and in subtle ways are not consistent with a Christian life.

A few weeks ago, we watched Sabrina, the original, classic one with Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn, and William Holden. I’ve watched this a number of times over the years.

Read the rest of this entry »

SS No. 62 | Shostakovich: Symphony No. 8

by Glenn on September 8, 2017

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–1975)

Symphony No. 8 in c minor, Op. 65
Adagio
Allegretto
Allegro non troppo
Largo
Allegretto

first performance: 3 November 1943
Yevgeny Mravinsky | State Symphony Orchestra Read the rest of this entry »

The Death of Meredith Kercher and the Trials of Amanda Knox

by Glenn on September 4, 2017

I’ve spent some time this summer considering a criminal event from nearly ten years ago, the murder of Meredith Kercher.

The journey began when I listened to Amanda Knox’s Waiting to Be Heard: A Memoir Read by the Author. (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2013).

Cover artwork of Amanda Knox's Waiting to Be Heard: A Memoir, Read by the Author

Read the rest of this entry »

Just for Fun: Allan Sherman

by Glenn on September 1, 2017

Earlier this week I was between audio books in the car. I needed a palate cleanser and turned to an artist from my childhood, Allan Sherman. Not sure how many times I played Sherman’s My Son, the Celebrity on the record player as a kid.

Read the rest of this entry »

Adventures in Classical Programming

by Glenn on August 24, 2017

When you program a concert of classical music, it’s tough to be creative. As an audience, we generally don’t like the unfamiliar—surprises can be dicey.

A typical evening might be a short and upbeat piece to start out the evening, a concerto of some type heading into the intermission, and a major symphonic work to close it all out. That’s seems to be the expectation or at least the common practice.

You can experiment with “new music,” which could be either music that is literally new or music that hasn’t become part of the mainstream canon, yet, but these tend not to be the works that get people to show up to concerts. Assuming limits of time and money, you go to hear things you like to hear. The unfamiliar is may be a delightful epiphany or a moment that leaves you wondering, “What was that?”

Recently, I heard some inventive and enjoyable programming from one of the BBC Proms. It took a couple of sittings (up to and then after the intermission), but I caught a replay of Prom 37, an all-Rachmaninov program. I think the announcer referred to it as an immersion.

The program I heard featured two familiar and wonderful works by Rachmaninoff, the Third Piano Concerto in d minor before the intermission and the haunting Second Symphony after. (These were the works that I imagine got people in the door.)

That program would be pretty traditional, except that both of these big orchestral works were preceded by a small choral work which then rolled seamlessly and immediately into the orchestral performance.

The choral group was the Latvian Radio Choir. According to the announcer, the program opened with the lights in the auditorium dimmed. The choir began singing in the foyer and then processed forward through the audience. They sang a chant that was part of Rachmaninov’s All-Night Vigil (Vespers).  The chant had an uncanny resemblance to the opening of the piano concerto.

There was a basic point being made, which was that Rachmaninov has a connection to the chant of the Russian Orthodox Church.

I tend to think of Rachmaninoff as a part of “Western” music history, but his music has ties to the Russian Orthodox Church and has an “Eastern”/“Byzantine” quality about it, including especially melodies which follow small intervallic patterns. It was wonderful to hear that direct connection.

I hadn’t listened to the piano concerto for ages. It was gloriously played here by Alexander Gavrylyuk accompanied by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by Thomas Dausgaard. Gavrylyuk was called upon to play an encore, Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise.”

Following intermission, the Latvian Radio Choir started things off again, this time with an Easter Chant which rolled into the symphony.

This was remarkable programming. It would have been just fine listening to the concerto and the symphony by themselves, but the choir added an other-worldly dimension to the proceedings. I’ve only come to be exposed to the music of the Orthodox Church late in life. It’s a remarkable experience.

I don’t know if I will have the time for it before it disappears, but the Latvian Radio Choir was presenting the All-Night Vespers in their entirety later that night for Prom No. 38.

Update:

The All-Night Vespers is pretty glorious listening. It’s in Russian, which goes right past me, but the music itself is gorgeous, the effect of which is like holding a sleeping puppy. It goes to work on you. You have to slow down. This is not great music to approach with anything like impatience—you simply won’t make it through. It’s well worth listening to. The Latvian Radio Choir features a rather straight choral tone—nothing operatic about the singing—which adds a kind of minimalist approach to the aesthetic. There’s nothing extra going on, just the pure sound of the Vespers.

The announcer describes this as “one of the most profound and transporting pieces of choral music in the repertoire.” It was the last major work Rachmaninoff wrote following the Russian Revolution and before he fled Russia to the West. The announcer said Rachmaninoff had stopped going to church by this time but he hadn’t lost his love for the music of the Russian Orthodox Church. Some of the music Rachmaninoff appropriates from the 11th century. Others he creates as “conscious counterfeits.”