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Thread: Tempo in Rachmaninoff's All-Night Vigil

  1. #1
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    Question Tempo in Rachmaninoff's All-Night Vigil

    2 things:

    1 --

    I am conducting a choir which plans to perform movement 2 of Rachmaninoff's All-Night Vigil, but I am uncertain what tempo is appropriate.

    The tempo marking is "Moderato (alla breve)" [Умеренный темп (движение половинами)], which I understand to mean a fairly quick tempo (108–120 bpm, where half notes get the beat). However, I have only found one performance near that tempo, and I find the tenor 1 (later soprano 1) pickups jarring when it is that fast.

    I want to observe Rachmaninoff's marked tempo for authenticity, but I'm not sure whether it can be done convincingly. I also might prefer to hear a much slower tempo, as I enjoy listening to these performances most.

    The text of the song is from Psalm 104, praising God for His creations; it mentions rivers flowing through hills. On the one hand, a slower tempo allows the audience to enjoy the kind of stereotypical peacefulness of pastoral nature, and feels sacred. On the other, there's a lot more to God's creations than just pastoral nature, and rivers in hills flow quickly.

    Thoughts about which tempo is best? / Tips on how to perform at the quick tempo convincingly?

    Maybe I can use a ton of rubato on those pickups . . .

    2 --

    On a related note, movement 11 of the All-Night Vigil is a rondo in which the principal theme has the same tempo as the contrasting themes (i.e. a slow, ponderous tempo). This baffles me. The opportunity for a contrasting tempo feels obvious, and yet a uniform tempo is explicitly marked (as if Rachmaninoff also thought it felt more natural to speed up the principal theme, and therefore had to explicitly direct against that interpreation). Any ideas why this might be? (A performance as written. A performance with contrasting tempos.)

  2. #2
    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    If there are no metronome markings, you can safely assume that a range of tempos would be acceptable to the composer. If he had a very specific tempo in mind he could have made that clear. Listen to various performances to see if there's a performing tradition. With that information, take tempos that feel natural and expressive to you.

    That said, it's my observation that Rachmaninoff's other works are often played more slowly than he himself played them. Clearly he didn't want his music dragged.

  3. #3
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    I own two recordings of Rachmaninoff's "All Night Vigil". I prefer this one:

    Among the versions you posted, I prefer the slower temp by USSR Ministry of Culture Chamber Choir, Conductor: Valeri Polyansky. Beautiful performance.

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