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Sergei Rachmaninov

Rachmaninov's Vocalise, Op. 34/14 (1912), is one of the few members of an elite repertory niche: popular, non-avant-garde vocal works without text. In fact, having been arranged for orchestra, piano, various chamber ensembles, and solo string instruments, it is easily the most popular and recognizable of such works, matched perhaps only by the aria from Heitor Villa Lobos' Bacchianas Brasileiras No. 5.

The Opus 34 group contains some of the Rachmaninov's best-loved songs, each of which was tailored to the vocal personality of a particular singer with whom he was acquainted from the Bolshoi opera. The highly declamatory examples, such as In the Soul of Each of Us, Op. 34/2, were dedicated to the great bass Feodor Chaliapin, whose ability to shape words into dramatic musical statements was legendary. The Vocalise, on the other hand, was dedicated to Antonina Nezhdanova, who can be presumed to have possessed a singularly pleasing and flexible voice, given the sustained, almost violin-like character of the piece.

Though originally written for voice and piano, the Vocalise is most often heard in its orchestrated version as a concert hall delicacy. In this setting, the rich, seamless nature of the strings compliment the soaring voice to great effect, and make for an altogether more sensual piece.

 -- All Music Guide