Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
The Bells Op.35 (1913) [37:25]¹
Vocalise (1914) (orch. José Serebrier (2010)) [6:36]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Festive Overture Op.96 (1954) [6:30]
Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
Chant du ménestrel Op.71 (1900) [4:11] ²
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Entr'acte (Act IV) from Khovanschina (1872-1880) (orch. Leopold Stokowski) [4:47]
Lyubov Petrova (soprano); Andrei Popov (tenor); Sergei Leiferkus (baritone) ¹
Wen-Sinn Yang (cello) ²
Russian National Orchestra/José Serebrier
rec. 2 April 2010, Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatory; the closing concert of the First International Rostropovich Festival
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 68025-5 [59:39]

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.

Jonathan Woolf

A success from beginning to end - interpretatively, sonically and programmatically.