In 1971, Einojuhani Rautavaara was asked to compose a Finnish Orthodox church service, an all-night vigil similar to that of Rachmaninov, comprising Vespers as well as Matins. Soon after the first performance he reshaped the music into what we now know as Vigilia, a concert version forming a musical whole. As his inspiration, Rautavaara has himself described a visit to the Valamo monastery in the middle of Lake Ladoga in 1939: ‘The bells began to ring, low-pitched booms and higher, shrill clinks: the world was filled with sounds and colours…’
The music is marked by dark colours, the heady smell of incense and the crepuscular church lit only by small candles. Divided into two parts, Vespers and Matins, the 70-minute work consists of 34 sections, and features prominent parts for a bass and a tenor soloist, as well as a number of solo voices emerging from the mixed choir. The work is enriched by the constantly changing combinations of choir and soloists, the perspective shifting from the personal to the universal. It is here performed by the 21-strong Helsinki Chamber Choir, under its artistic director Nils Schweckendiek – a team that has made several recordings for BIS in recent years. These include Riemuitkaamme!, a Christmas disc (‘Schweckendiek’s immaculately blended singers make a glorious noise’, The Arts Desk), as well as a two-disc survey of the choral works of Finnish modernist Erik Bergman (‘The Helsinki choir produces a radiant sound throughout’, Choir & Organ).