Composer: Serge Rachmaninov
Performer: Mariinsky Theatre Chorus
Orchestra: BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
Conductor: Gianandrea Noseda
Number of Discs: 1
Format: FLAC (tracks+cue)
Size: 229 MB
01. Vesna (Spring), Op. 20
02. 3 Russian Songs, Op. 41: No. 1. Over the stream, the swift stream
03. 3 Russian Songs, Op. 41: No. 2. Ah, Vanka, you are so dashing
04. 3 Russian Songs, Op. 41: No. 3. My cheeks, so white, so rosy!
05. Kolokola (The Bells), Op. 35: I. Allegro, ma non tanto
06. Kolokola (The Bells), Op. 35: II. Lento
07. Kolokola (The Bells), Op. 35: III. Presto
08. Kolokola (The Bells), Op. 35: IV. Lento lugubre – Allegro – Andante – Tempo I
Very satisfying performances of outstanding works
Language is essential in Russian choral works, so it was canny of Chandos to import three vocal soloists and the Mariinsky Chorus from native ground. This 2011 Prom in Albert Hall offered a rare chance to hear all three of these superb works (as it happens, I was in attendance); on records there is a Decca Eloquence reissue from Charles Dutoit and the Philadelphia Orch. containing the same program. Noseda comes closer to the raw, passionate delivery that seems truly Russian; Dutoit’s American chorus sings by rote and cannot come close for authenticity.
The masterpiece here is The Bells, very loosely based on Poe’s famous poem, which Rachmaninov uses as a platform to depict four ages of life from the bright, silvery joy of the first movement to the grave meditation on death at the end. Each movement is grounded musically by the sounds of different bells. Even though the work doesn’t appear often in concert, there have been a surprising number of recordings, with the best being under Svetlanov (the most intense and Soviet of the lot), Pletnev, and Serebrier (a live recording like this one). For someone who wants the ‘Spring’ cantata and the Three Russian Songs as fillers – and they are very fine ones – Noseda easily surpasses Dutoit, not just in Russianness but in its vigor and inner life (Noseda has long been associated with the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg).
Noseda’s approach features some sophisticated music-making, setting it apart from Svetlanov, who is more attuned to Rachmaninov’s gloominess. Newcomers might need a caveat that the solo voices, especially the tenor, are very Slavic in timbre, the tone being more in the throat and often with a pronounced vibrato approaching a wobble. What I like best is that we are thrown into the thick of an exciting live event. Chandos has coped well with the vastness of Albert Hall, even if the soloists feel a little jammed down our throats. All three works are haunting evocations of the old Russia that an emigre composer loved and longed for, and the performances capture that feeling with moving realism. I’d say that Noseda, who is leaving the BBC Phil. after this season, has ended his Rachmaninov cycle with one of its best instalalments.