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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1875 - 1945)
The Bells, Op. 35 (1912) [35:15]
Spring, Op. 20 (1902) [15:57]
Three Russian Songs, Op.41 [12:04]
Alexandrina Pendachanska Op.35, (soprano)
Kaludi Kaludov Op.35, (tenor)
Sergei Leiferkus Opp. 35, 20 (tenor)
Choral Arts Society of Philadelphia
Philadelphia Orchestra/Charles Dutoit.
rec. Memorial Hall, Philadelphia, USA, January 1992. DDD
DECCA ELOQUENCE 476 7702 [63:55].

This is another welcome issue from Australian Eloquence’s Rachmaninov series. Unlike the Kletzki and Weller symphony discs, recently reviewed, this is not a first issue but it is no less welcome from Rachmaninov’s favourite orchestra at budget price. The conductor, Charles Dutoit, is not known for his passion in romantic repertoire and that holds good here. The use of mostly Russian soloists helps enormously with the singing of the texts. Nevertheless the American Choir cope extremely well with their part.

This disc couples all of Rachmaninov’s works for choir and orchestra. This is a nice idea and the performances, whilst not the best available, are more than satisfactory and allow enthusiasts to enjoy these works at super budget price. In a recent BBC Review, The Bells was discussed. These performances were unavailable at the time, which is a shame, as they would, I am sure, come out quite well in competition with the others currently available. My own favourite, Kondrashin with the Moscow Philharmonic and all Russian voices is my Desert Island choice for this work, even given the rather raucous tone of the recording. This was similarly unavailable for the BBC review.

The Bells is a choral symphony in four tableaux inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s re-interpretation of the Russian tale by Konstantin Balmont. The work forms a life-to-death picture of human existence, expressed through the metaphor of bell sounds. We hear the silver bells of birth and youth, the golden bells of marriage of marriage and love, the brazen alarm bells of terror and anguish, and finally the iron knell of death and burial. This recording handles the forces well and Decca seem to have generated a warm and lively acoustic for the orchestra and choir. So often recently, have recordings of this superb orchestra not done its mahogany tone full justice. Philadelphia does not however have a recording venue like the one provided for Dutoit in his usual location in Montreal.

The next work on the disc, Spring, suggests a re-birth, based upon the poem by Nikolay Nekrasov. In its way the piece was also a re-birth for the composer, after his long bout of depression following the disastrous premiere of his First Symphony. In the poem, a peasant, having spent the summer in the city, returns to his village, and learns from his wife that she has been unfaithful to him. As they spend the winter months cooped up together in the cold and dark, the peasant’s feelings become bleak and he considers revenge. As the spring season starts, rage and bitterness ebbs away and these dark feelings are replaced with hope and light. Love, endurance and forgiveness are the main themes at this point, and the soloist, supported by the chorus, sings of these things, before the work ebbs away into calm. This piece, intended originally for Chaliapin is well written and is highly characteristic of its composer.

The Three Russian Songs are for chorus and orchestra, the first for male only, the second for female voices, and the last for mixed voices all with orchestra. Dutoit paces these well and Rachmaninov’s mature scoring and writing is immensely satisfying.

I enjoyed this disc very much. More goodies from Australia – well done Eloquence – keep up the good work.

John Phillips



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