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Nikolai RIMSKY–KORSAKOV (1844 – 1908)
Russian Easter Festival Overture, op.36 (1887/1888) [16:25]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873 – 1943)
Symphony No.1 in D minor, op.13 (1895) [38:34]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891 – 1953)
Ode to the End of the War, op.105 (1945) [13:03]
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Gennadi Rozhdestvensky
rec. 31(Rimsky) and 23 (Rachmaninov) August 1979, Royal Albert Hall, London; 11 October 1978, Royal Festival Hall, London (Prokofiev) ADD
BBC LEGENDS BBCL42332 [68:46]
Experience Classicsonline

I welcome this disk not least because I attended two of the three concerts represented here. What a wonderful reminder of a couple of very satisfying evenings in the concert hall it is.
Gennadi Rozhdestvensky, or Noddy as the players called him, had a short tenure with the BBC Symphony Orchestra but he achieved much with regard to programming Russian music as well as giving some excellent performances of Delius and Elgar. In fact, a fine Elgar 2nd Symphony was on the second half of the programme which included the Prokofiev presented here.
The thing which, at the time, fascinated, and amused, me about the Prokofiev Ode was the fact that it contained parts for eight harps and four pianos. I remember thinking what an idiot Prokofiev must have been to use these forces and for the past thirty years I have carried the memory that the piece was a waste of time. Hearing it again I discover a rather good work. State sponsored celebration to be sure, but there’s some good things in it – the allegro with muted trumpet and swirling woodwinds, and a more relaxed, almost pastoral, section, static and rather beautiful. Unlike thirty years ago, I am more than willing to listen to this piece again. Thank goodness I’ve grown up a bit in the intervening years!
The Rachmaninov Symphony wasn’t as well known in 1979 as it is today and, at the time, this performance was a revelation. It’s high powered, passionate and forthright, and you’d think that the members of the BBC Symphony had been playing it every season, so much in touch with the music are they. Noddy directs a very dramatic performance, the first movement is quite startling in its stark, unrelenting, forward momentum. The scherzo isn’t the playful thing some conductors make of it, and the slow movement is dark and tragic. The finale, starting with the famous fanfare, is all headlong race, but it’s never rushed, hell–for–leather, death and glory stuff. The slow coda, full of trumpets, drums, timpani and tam-tam is positively apocalyptic - a word I seem to use often when writing and talking about Rachmaninov’s orchestral scores. There are a couple of deviations from the score as we now know it, the most startling being the omission of the little brass tucket which precedes the big statement of the motto theme in the finale. This should not worry us for this is an interpretation of great stature and one of the best performances of the work currently available. This, alone, is worth the price of the disk.
Rimsky’s Overture is nicely done and makes a satisfactory start to the concert.
The recordings are beautifully clear and precise, the orchestra well focused and there are some bits of orchestration I’d never noticed before in the Rachmaninov. This is not to be missed at any cost for it is a superb reminder of Noddy’s time with the BBC and how he brought out the very best in his players.
Bob Briggs


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