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Rachmaninov: The Bells, Spring & Three Russian Songs
This is the seventh and final volume in our acclaimed Rachmaninoff series, which has been performed by the BBC Philharmonic under Gianandrea Noseda. They are joined in this recording by the Chorus of the Mariinsky Theatre and the soloists Svetla Vassileva, Misha Didyk, and Alexei Tanovitski. The disc was recorded live at this year’s Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, London.
Rachmaninoff composed his ‘choral symphony’ The Bells in 1913. It takes its inspiration from poems by Edgar Allan Poe in a Russian translation by the poet Konstantin Balmont. The first movement, evoking the chimes of silver bells on a winter sleigh ride, is unusually cheerful for both the composer and author, while ‘Wedding Bells’ blends the yearning of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde with a darker and more ominous undercurrent that carries through to the end. Of this Proms performance, The Guardian wrote: ‘The soloists soared, the choir bloomed, and Noseda powered the orchestra through thrilling climaxes to the funereal closing bars.’
In the brooding cantata Spring of 1902, the restlessness and lively use of percussion reflect the composer’s mindset at the time: He was hungry to write music once again after suffering from a three-year bout of writer’s block and depression. The work is based on a poem by Nikolay Nekrasov and describes the return of the Zelyoniy shum, or ‘green rustle’. The poem tells of a husband who, fraught with murderous thoughts towards his unfaithful wife during the winter season, is freed from his frustrations by the return of spring.
The Three Russian Songs are poignant, gem-like time capsules of a Russia now irretrievably lost. They were written in 1926 when Rachmaninoff was living and exhaustively touring as a pianist in America. Vladimir Wilshaw, Rachmaninoff’s old friend from student days, said of this work: ‘Only a man who loves his country could compose this way. Only a man who in his innermost soul is a Russian. Only Rachmaninoff could have composed this!’
“The Mariinsky's strongest suit is probably its distinctly Russian tone...Alas, the dramatic engagement one might have expected from an opera chorus is here virtually nonexistent...The Bells itself is beautifully played, but with rather literal fidelity to the score. This approach works well enough in the funereal final movement with its echoes of Isle of the Dead. Noseda's avoidance of rubato, though, rather misses the poetry of the golden bells.” BBC Music Magazine, December 2011 ***
“Noseda handles [The Bells] skilfully, with sensitivity to the contrasted moods and to the orchestral detail as well as the balance with the chorus and soloists...and the grim finale is kept at a firm and solemn pace...[in 'Spring'] Tanovitsky broods impressively as the peasant, phrasing sensitively, and Noseda does well to make formal sense of the piece.” International Record Review, November 2011
“The big moments in this live Proms recording - like the all-choral third movement, evoking supernatural 'alarm bells' - thrill the ear, with a professional Russian chorus to add extra quality, and there's fine solo singing in the other three movements.” Classic FM Magazine, February 2012 ****
“Noseda shapes both ['Spring' and the Three Russian Songs] works sympathetically but inevitably responds more vividly to the more expansive canvas of The Bells; all the performances have the benefit of the Russian soloists and the wonderful chorus of the Mariinsky Opera.” The Guardian, 19th January 2012
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The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra continues its highly successful collaboration with Avie with a searing live recording of the composer’s Thirteenth Symphony, “Babi Yar”. Gerard Schwarz conducts a performance of probing intensity, painting a vivid aural picture of Soviet life under Stalin and underlining Shostakovich’s trademark black humour and underlying pathos. Israeli bass Gidon Saks, who has excelled in Russian roles including Boris Godunov at Opera Ireland and English National Opera, conveys the overtly political poetry of Yevgeny Yevtushenko, adding immeasurably to the emotional impact of the music.
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Rachmaninov: Complete Symphonies
For many years Rachmaninov’s symphonic output was neglected, and it wasn’t until the 1970s that the Second of his three symphonies was heard in its original uncut version. Slowly the realisation that this work and the masterful Third Symphony and Symphonic Dances were indeed able to stand comparison with the best of the symphonic repertoire finally dawned. They are now standard repertoire for most of the major orchestras, and as popular as the piano concertos with the public.
The Philadelphia Orchestra was Rachmaninov’s favourite, and the sound that it became famous for under Leopold Stokowski suits his music well. These recordings were praised for their sound upon release in the 1990s, and Charles Dutoit captures the ‘Philadelphia Sound’ admirably. Rachmaninov’s own recording of the Third symphony was made with this orchestra, who premiered it under Stokowski in 1936.
‘Compared with other versions, Dutoit’s performance of The Bells is remarkable for subtle pianissimos and half tones rather than dramatic bite…but helped by the dynamic range of the atmospheric recording, it is still an impressive performance.’ Gramophone, August 1994
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Alexander Gauk Edition Volume 1
March, in memory of Suvorov
Characteristic Pieces (24), Op. 36: In the Fields
Waltz in F major, from: 6 Children’s Pieces Op. 34
Coriolan Overture, Op. 62
Patrie Overture, Op. 19
Italia, Op. 11
The Sorcerer's Apprentice
Romanian Rhapsody in A major, Op. 11 No. 1
Spring, Op. 34
Waltz in D major Op. 42 No. 3
Premiere Polka in B Flat Major
Memory of Friendship
Symphony No.1 in E minor
A Faust Symphony, S108
Ruy Blas Overture, Op. 95
Symphony No. 17 in G sharp minor, Op. 41
Flourish, Mighty Land Op. 114
Russian Overture, Op. 72
Three Russian Songs, Op. 41
Evegeny Kibkalo (baritone)
The Song of Oleg, The Wise
Dmitri Tarkhov (tenor), Konstantin Polyaev (bass)
Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47
Symphony No. 11 in G minor, Op. 103 'The year 1905'
The Seasons, Op. 37b
(omitting May & August)
Hamlet: Overture & Incidental Music
USSR State Radio & TV Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, Alexander Gauk
This set presents a great opportunity to become more familiar with the charismatic Russian conductor, Alexander Gauk. He was also a composer but is probably better known for his orchestral arrangements, notably of Tchaikovsky’s ‘The Seasons’, included in this set.
Gauk also reconstructed the score of Rachmaninoff’s first piano concerto from the parts in 1945, thus enabling further performances after its disastrous première in 1897. He had a preference for Russian music which is shown here, eight out of the ten CDs being devoted exclusively to Russian composers.
Many of the most prominent Russian conductors of the twentieth century were once pupils of Alexander Gauk, for example, Evgeny Mravinsky and Evgeny Sveltanov. Gauk, who died in 1963, was one of those talented Russian musicians who rarely had the opportunity to experience the western lifestyle yet his fame did reach beyond his mother country.
Apart from featuring some of today’s better known symphonies by Shostakovich (Nos. 5 and 11) and the aforementioned ‘The Seasons’, the Gauk Edition comprises seldom performed works by Arensky, Balakirev (Islamey), Myaskovsky (Symphony No. 17) and Glinka and Rimsky-Korsakov.
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