Superlatives and rhetorical redundancies are so commonplace in modern parlance, that finding meaningful words to classify a one-of-a-kind musical offering becomes a futile exercise. The Saturday evening, a cappella presentation of Sergei Rachmaninoff's Op. 37, The All-Night Vigil, at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Redemptorist Church was such an event.
There was music, and now there is not. It was alive, now only organized black characters on faded paper. If you missed it, purchase the CD that is being recorded this weekend, but it will not be the same.
Maestro Charles Bruffy, Artistic Director of both groups, recruits the best solo voices and molds them into a cohesive unit. A hook, line and sinker believer in the Robert Shaw choral paradigm, Mr. Bruffy dictates the length of notes to a micron, specifies schwa (uh) sounds between adjacent consonants, allows no individual interpretation of pronunciation, and pretty much requires naturally self-confident, self-directed artists to be putty in his hands.
Saturday night it all worked. Tenor soloist, Frank Fleschner and mezzo soprano, Julia Scozzafava, were superb in voice, Russian pronunciation blend, balance, and, in Mr. Fleschner's case, Russian facial expression. The intoners of clerical exclamations, Bryan Taylor, Paul Davidson, Toby Kidd, and Joseph Warner were on time, in tune, in character, and filled the room with their incipits. There were sections that sounded of additional solos, but thy were simply whole sections singing as one. Every note was phrased.
Despite the fastidiousness of page markings, delivered by email, printed pages of handouts, or dictated from the rehearsal podium, the canvas was not completed in the practice room. The combined groups were instantly at the command of Mr. Bruffy's slightest gestural alteration to the room, humidity, sense of right, conveyed by the most insignificant of finger movement, facial expression, or, perhaps, thought. All 57 sets of eyes and minds were focused on the maestro's interpretation of Rachmaninoff at each instant.
The All-Night Vigil is a 1915 musical setting of the Vespers, Matins and First Hour, canonical Psalm, Scripture and traditional prayer texts of the Russian Orthodox Church. Rachmaninoff retained the Clergy Exclamations and employed unique polyphony and complex harmonies typical of the day. Historically, it is a marker for the end of the participation of the Russian Orthodox Church's in public affairs, and the Bolshevik's proscription of anything religious. The work is considered among the composer's most magnificent.
The combination of musicianship from both performers and composer, the acoustic quality of Redemptorist Church, a perfect storm was created, for an hour, and then it was gone.