The centre-piece of this concert, the closing concert of the
First International Rostropovich Festival given in April 2010,
was Rachmaninoff's The Bells. Presiding was José Serebrier,
whose Russian roots are strong, and whose idiomatic conducting
of such music - for example his top class Glazunov symphony
cycle (Warner) - adds lustre to the enterprise. (Watch out also
for Serebrier's complete Glazunov concertos which is "in
the works" Ed.).
What's so consistently impressive about his account of the
Rachmaninoff is its marrying of architectural surety and consistently
fine vocal and instrumental contributions. Sometimes one has
one, but not the other. Here we have both. This applies equally
to the trio of soloists, Lyubov Petrova, Andrei Popov and Sergei
Leiferkus, and indeed to the engineering which captures the
full sound spectrum with commendable fidelity and no loss of
focus. The audience is also very quiet. Critics often remark
on this fact, as if puzzling to themselves whether so many patching
sessions have taken place that the original concert has been
entirely effaced. Here it seems not, and once can well believe
it given the conductor's methodical and eloquent control throughout.
The pacing of The Bells is notably successful. Serebrier is
a good deal tauter than, say, Svetlanov who preferred to locate
a greater weight in the two Lento movements, the first in particular,
which he drew out to its full expressive capacity. It is a perfectly
acceptable view, though I suspect many listeners will prefer
the greater sense of movement Serebrier unleashes, the better
to proportion the work more securely. He takes a very similar
tempo as Svetlanov in the Scherzo but Serebrier's account is
better balanced and recorded than the rival Russian account.
The rest of the concert is equally desirable. It began with
a sparkling performance of Shostakovich's Festive Overture,
a compound here of brio, brilliance and surefooted musical good
sense, and avoiding pot-boiling pitfalls. Glazunov's Chant du
ménestrel, with cellist Wen-Sinn Yang, receives a warm
and thoughtful reading, with fine wind statements into the bargain.
We also have Stokowski's bold and powerful orchestration of
the Entr'acte from Act IV of Mussorgsky's Khovanschina, the
glistening power of which elicits a chorus of 'bravos' from
the audience. And to close we have the conductor's own impressive
orchestration of Rachmaninoff's Vocalise, written for, and unveiled
at, the commemorative event.
There are no texts for The Bells, though I daresay this will
not debar many from acquiring this superb performance. In fact,
the whole concert is a success from beginning to end - interpretatively,
sonically and programmatically.