Rachmaninov's Vespers holds a special place in the composer's output, far removed from the popular concertos that reflect his international career as a concert pianist.
Written in 1915, this stirring liturgical setting features the composer's own blend of traditional chants and original music that he wryly described as "conscious counterfeits".
The result is a score imbued with the same Russian soul that is at the core of composers from Glinka to Gubaidulina.
Full marks to Rita Paczian and her Bach Musica NZ for tonight's atmospheric presentation of Rachmaninov's choral masterpiece.
The well-filled spaces of St Matthew-in-the City were surrounded by hundreds of candles and, as the sky darkened outside, we were powerless to resist total musical immersion.
The evening opened with the tolling of bells; they returned at various intervals, the final jubilant outburst marking a momentous journey about to be completed.
A choir of 60 voices, dramatically attired in black and gold, responded with sensitivity to the precision of Paczian's conducting.
The two soloists were impressive. Contralto Sarah Court gave us Bless the Lord with rich tone and expansive phrasing; tenor Dmitry Rusakov, with a welcome Slavic timbre to his voice, effortlessly wove his line amongst exemplary altos and tenors in the "Nunc Dimittis".
Having experienced this work some decades ago in Russia, in the appropriate cathedral acoustics, I did miss the almost hypnotic appeal of deep, resonating bass lines, so difficult to replicate with Anglo-Saxon voices.
Yet, on the whole, Paczian gave us music as spirited as it was spiritual. Real passions unfurled in pealing "Alleluias" and one felt the cumulative power of Rachmaninov's succession of choruses, closing with a powerful hymn to the mother of God.
This concert will be repeated in Hamilton on June 12 and is well worth a trip down SH1.
What: Bach Musica NZ
Where: St Matthew-in-the-City