Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
The Bells - poem for orchestra, chorus and soloists (1913) [41.35]
Spring - cantata for baritone, chorus and orchestra (1902) [17.53]
Vocalise (orch. V. Klin) (1915) [8.53]
Sergei Yakovenko (bar)
Alexei Maslennikov (ten)
Galina Pisarenko (sop)
Yurlov Russian Choir/Yuri Ukhov (Bells); Stanislav Gusev (Spring)
USSR Symphony Orchestra/Evgeni Svetlanov
rec. 1979 (Bells), 1984 (Spring), 1973 (Vocalise) ADD/DDD
REGIS RRC 1144 [68.20]

The music-making on this disc runs with that peculiarly Russian vein of virile fantasy. This applies as much to the playing and singing as it does to the recording techniques. With the exception of the Vocalise none of these pieces are standard concert fare.

Spring sets words from Nekrasov's 'The Verdant Noise' in which the cuckolded farmer stands ready to kill his unfaithful wife. The onset of spring with its relentlessly benign power of renewal saves the woman. Forgiveness reigns. The work was written in the wake of the success of the Second Piano Concerto. Rachmaninov had his friend Chaliapin in mind for the solo part but the premiere was taken by Aleksay Smirnoff. Chaliapin sang the piece in St Petersburg and Paris in 1905 and 1906. The work's auburn radiance and warm melodic glow places it close to the Second Symphony. It is a rare piece last heard by me many years ago on an RCA LP (LSB4081) in a version with John Shaw and the New Philharmonia conducted by Igor Buketoff who knew the composer. It was Buketoff who orchestrated the first act (all that exists) of Rachmaninov's Monna Vanna opera and he recorded that ‘stub’ with the original version of the Fourth Piano Concerto on Chandos CHAN 8987. Spring is subtly and powerfully recorded - the only digital item here. Yakovenko, as the betrayed farmer, is again the baritone soloist. His voice had in the five years since his role in The Bells gained a slight 'beat' but nothing destructive. Spring demands large forces and blazing singing which it gets in spades here (tr. 5. 13.10, 16.39) with the odd recollection of Polovtsi savagery amid the plenteous elysian beauties (tr.5 13.41).

It is refreshing to note that the three items are all concerned with the human voice. Curiously the Vocalise has been orchestrated by Valentin Klin to omit the soprano role and instead subsume it into the orchestral fabric. It does not sound as plush as it deserves in this thirty year old recording. Certainly Svetlanov allows it to spread and breathe deeply.

The main interest here is bound to focus on The Bells which is vivid in the extreme with rhythmic interest gloriously and cleanly etched (try tr.4 8.16). Another element is the singing Russian soul which is intoxicatingly evident in the excitingly beautiful sleighbells (recalled in the first of the Symphonic Dances) and love-making of the first movement. These are the silver bells of Poe's poem as translated by Balmont. And Alexei Maslennikov is in meatily resonant voice, not a waver, not a tremble; just sanguine Slavonic passion comparable with the effect stunningly achieved by the bass Alexander Vedernikov in the Relief Recording of Sviridov's Oratorio Pathétique. The golden bells swing and ring unrushed. Although Pisarenko is shrill (in the manner of many Slavonic sopranos) she is penetratingly vivid through the dreamy Rimskian textures. Sadko and Golden Cockerel echoes abound at this point - no doubt attributable to the composer's spell as director of the Bolshoi. The tolling motif recalls the Bell scene from Boris Godunov. The brazen fire tocsin of the third movement conjures the rapine and destruction that was to hammer and blast the Russian people for decades to come. The finale is a lento lugubre which has another of those rocking motifs - half tolling, half wave lapping similar to The Isle of the Dead. Like so much of this work and this performance the effect is one of extreme beauty and the cor anglais solo at the start looks sideways towards Sibelius's Swan. The layout of this work is intriguing with two movements (II and IV) at lento and two at speed (I and III).

The words of Spring and The Bells are not given ... which is a pity. Contrast this with the regal treatment of the listener in Regis's Barber collection drawn from Unicorn LPs where full texts are given.

This is a compellingly attractive purchase. There is nothing studious or half-baked about the playing. The Bells bids fair to be a top choice in a not very crowded market. Spring is not otherwise available. It is at bargain price. It is well-filled. Rachmaninovians will snap this up for the rare Spring. Svetlanov's growing clan of admirers will want the disc for The Bells. The music-making on this disc runs with that peculiarly Russian vein of virile fantasy.

Rob Barnett

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