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Rachmaninov: The Bells / Spring / Three Russian Songs, Opp. 20, 35, 41

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Audio CD, November 15, 2011
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Product Details

  • Performer: Mariinsky Theatre Chorus
  • Orchestra: BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Conductor: Gianandrea Noseda
  • Composer: Serge Rachmaninov
  • Audio CD (November 15, 2011)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Chandos
  • ASIN: B005PZFEXI
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #466,890 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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By Santa Fe Listener HALL OF FAME on November 15, 2011
Format: Audio CD
Language is essential in Russian choral works, so it was canny of Chandos to import three vocal soloists and the Mariinsky Chorus from native ground. This 2011 Prom in Albert Hall offered a rare chance to hear all three of these superb works (as it happens, I was in attendance); on records there is a Decca Eloquence reissue from Charles Dutoit and the Philadelphia Orch. containing the same program. Noseda comes closer to the raw, passionate delivery that seems truly Russian; Dutoit's American chorus sings by rote and cannot come close for authenticity.

The masterpiece here is The Bells, very loosely based on Poe's famous poem, which Rachmaninov uses as a platform to depict four ages of life from the bright, silvery joy of the first movement to the grave meditation on death at the end. Each movement is grounded musically by the sounds of different bells. Even though the work doesn't appear often in concert, there have been a surprising number of recordings, with the best being under Svetlanov (the most intense and Soviet of the lot), Pletnev, and Serebrier (a live recording like this one). For someone who wants the 'Spring' cantata and the Three Russian Songs as fillers - and they are very fine ones - Noseda easily surpasses Dutoit, not just in Russianness but in its vigor and inner life (Noseda has long been associated with the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg).

Noseda's approach features some sophisticated music-making, setting it apart from Svetlanov, who is more attuned to Rachmaninov's gloominess. Newcomers might need a caveat that the solo voices, especially the tenor, are very Slavic in timbre, the tone being more in the throat and often with a pronounced vibrato approaching a wobble. What I like best is that we are thrown into the thick of an exciting live event.
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I'm going to keep this review short. These performances would have probably been a lot more successful had a veil not covered the microphones when Chandos were making this recording. Total lack of clarity and there's no kind of detail to be found here. I can always refer back to Svetlanov, Ashkenazy, Kitajenko, and Polyansky thankfully. This particular team (Noseda and the BBC Philharmonic) have had a pretty decent run in Rachmaninov's symphonies and other orchestral works, but this recording was a failure (due to the audio quality).
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I am a newcomer to most Russian music, except for Tschaikovsky. I have long felt I should get to know Rachmaninov. So far I am very happy with all I have heard. Patrick J Flanagan
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