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Rachmaninov: The Bells - Prokofiev: Alexander Nevsky

May 1, 2012 | Format: MP3

$7.99
Also available in CD Format
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7:23
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11:26
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9:04
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12:08
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2:43
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3:21
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6:25
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2:22
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12:06
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6:47
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11
4:40
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Format: MP3 Music
Svetlanov was so prolific that he recorded almost every scrap of Russian orchestral music, and his often rough, even wild style exemplified the feisty attitude of the Soviet era, when wrestling music to the ground was proof that workers could embrace high culture. The dapper Rachmaninov, a thoroughly white Russian as aristocratic as a borzoi, would probably have been shocked at the crude but vital account of his choral masterpiece, The Bells, that Svetlanov recorded in Russia (it can be found on various reissue labels in good sound). Loosely based upon Edgar Allen Poe's poem, the work is a cantata that evokes the morning, noon, and night of life's journey, with bells appropriate to each time. It's a hard work to bring off since three vocal soloists are required to confront Rachmaninov's rich orchestration, and the tenor part in particular is high and taxing.

Western recordings have tended to be on the tame side (Previn, Dutoit), and even native Russians have bent too much in the direction of elegance (Ashkenazy, Pletnev). Thanks to the emigration of talented young conductors from the former Soviet empire, live performances can be heard that outdo any studio recording, but they aren't on disc.

Here Svetlanov is conducting his last concert, from the Barbican in April 2002, just a month before his death. He is more willing to smooth out the rough edges of his interpretation while still retaining its robust vitality. I hear little of the drawbacks cited by the previous reviewer. The BBC's recorded sound is very good; one can't expect perfection when such large choral, orchestral, and solo forces are combined. The fullness and musicality of the BBC Chorus couldn't be bettered, even if their Russian is mostly unintelligible (unfortunately, ICA doesn't provide texts).
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Format: MP3 Music
Here's a splendid live double-bill, offering two performances in London of seminal Russian cantatas (or, in Rachmaninov's terminology, a "choral symphony") from the same distinguished Russian conductor but recorded fourteen years apart, one in the Barbican (Svetlanov's last concert before he died of cancer) and the other in the Royal Festival Hall. Neither location is - or, in the case of the South Bank hall, was, before the expensive and successful acoustic refurbishment - especially gratifying from a sonic point of view but I have to say that the engineers have done a great job in both locations and ICA the remastering is very successful, if not perfect, especially with regard to the definition of the choirs' words. There is very little audience noise.

I was less than complimentary in a recent review of Gergiev's "Alexander Nevsky" from around the same time in St Petersburg with Kirov forces; I found it bland and blustery. Here with Svetlanov, I hear all the mystery and menace I expect from a great account of this fascinating and atmospheric score; he combines the requisite Russian roughness with far more variety of dynamics and subtler phrasing than Gergiev, who seems to have little to say about the music beyond giving it a loud run-through. The Philharmonia Chorus sounds better than its Russian counterpart and their Russian is pretty authentic - insofar as we can hear their words in a slightly blurred sound-picture. The absence of texts will be a blot and hindrance for anyone who hasn't got them in other issues; both works really need them to be properly appreciated. The late Alfreda Hodgson sings her lament gorgeously, with rich, pseudo-Slavonic tone and a deep feeling for the words; she is as good as the very best here, alongside Obratsova, Elias and Borodina.
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