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Rachmaninov: The Bells; Prokofiev: Alexander Nevsky / Shtoda, Prokina, Leiferkus - Evgeny Svetlanov

Album Summary

>Rachmaninov, Sergey : The Bells, choral symphony for soprano, tenor, baritone, chorus & orchestra, Op. 35
>Prokofiev, Sergey : Alexander Nevsky, cantata for mezzo-soprano, chorus & orchestra, Op. 78
Performers Conductor Ensembles Composers

Notes & Reviews:

ICA marks the 10th anniversary of the great Evgeny Svetlanov's death with a coupling of Rachmaninov's The Bells and Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky, two composers that were closely associated with the conductor. The performance of The Bells was taken from Svetlanov's last concert in April 2002. These recordings have never been issued before and have been recorded in brilliant stereo with a wide dynamic range.

American Record Guide, September / October 2012
Nevsky dates from 14 years earlier, 30 January 1988, and is vital, earthy, and very Russian sounding. How did Svetlanov get English choir singers to sound so Slavic? Very Russian sound from Ms Hodgson, too. Svetlanov captures both the epic timelessness of the score and the human loss and pain of the dramatic events it depicts. I should wave the caution flag and remind you that the Reiner (RCA) has better sound, Schippers (Sony) more excitement, and Temirkanov (RCA) the advantage of more music from the Alexander Nevsky movie score itself - plus spectacular sonics and an unmistakably Russian sound. There's a place for Svetlanov's sturdy, forthright, uninhibited power. Svetlanov was recorded in the notorious difficult space of the Royal Albert Hall. It's a little Albert-y, but overall I find it very listenable.

MusicWeb International
The release of this hugely exciting disc marked the tenth anniversary of Evgeny Svetlanov's death. He was in poor health when he conducted this performance of The Bells but this electrifying performance sounds like the work of a fully fit man in his forties. It was to be his last concert; a matter of days later he died so it's good that his final performance shows him at his considerable best. The live account of Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky, given in 1988 is also pretty special. This is a phenomenal issue!

The Telegraph, 25th May 2012
A performance of The Bells that was possessed of a passion, an intensity and a radiant glow that were qualities forever associated with a Svetlanov concert...Svetlanov could plumb the music's very soul...Throughout, the orchestral playing is rich, luminous and lucid of texture. The CD is worth having for this performance alone. Coupled with Svetlanov's 1988 Alexander Nevsky, it is a must.


Two Russian Choral Masterworks
With two of the greatest Russian choral works performed in concert by the foremost conductor of the Soviet era, this disc ought to be self-recommending. Alas the situation is not that simple. First there is the matter of texts. ICA provides none, though they do somehow manage find room for seven pages of colorful photos of their earlier releases. The words are essential here, especially in Rachmaninov’s The Bells. Poe’s original text is easy enough to find on the Internet, but you’re not likely to have an English language version of Konstantin Balmont’s Russian translation handy. Balmont transformed Poe’s humdrum effort in to a profound meditation on the stages of life from youth and marriage to decline and death, and it’s impossible to fully appreciate this astounding choral symphony without the text in front of you.

The Prokofiev cantata derives from a 1988 concert by the Philharmonia Orchestra in London’s notorious Royal Festival Hall, where the acoustics were said to make performers (and presumably recording engineers) “lose the will to live”, according to Sir Simon Rattle. The BBC had little luck on this occasion, and the sound is diffuse, distant and muddy. The chorus seems terribly far from the microphones, and the all-important percussion writing is too often lost in the fray. Svetlanov generally preferred slow tempos, especially as he aged. That usually served him well, but here he seems merely heavy and ponderous. The highlight of this performance is Alfreda Hodgson, whose ringing mezzo voice and impeccable phrasing lend appropriate weight and tragic intensity to Prokofiev’s heartfelt lament for the fallen. Lili Chookasian with Thomas Schippers and Rosalind Elias under Fritz Reiner are equally compelling, and both conductors find more drama and color in the rest of this stunning score.

Svetlanov is considerably more persuasive in The Bells, recorded at the Barbican in London in 2002. The playing of the BBC Symphony is crisp, joyous, and vividly colorful. The vocal soloists are ideally suited to their roles, most notably the fresh, youthful sounding tenor Daniil Shtoda in the opening movement (“The Silver Sleigh Bells”). The chorus is equally superb, and the sound is clear, open, and skillfully balanced. Indeed, only Svetlanov’s scherzo disappoints. The music portrays the frightening alarm bells of encroaching age, and Svetlanov’s reading is far too tame—especially compared to the ominous and threatening Mikhail Pletnev on DG. Svetlanov, however, shines brightest in the wondrous slow music—the hushed eroticism of the strings toward the middle of the second movement (“Wedding Bells”) or the dark serenity that emerges in the score’s closing pages (“Funeral Bells”).

Submitted on 07/01/12 by Tom Godell 
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Works Details

>Rachmaninov, Sergey : The Bells, choral symphony for soprano, tenor, baritone, chorus & orchestra, Op. 35
  • Performers: Sergei Leiferkus; Yelena Prokina (Soprano); Daniil Shtoda (Tenor)
  • Conductor: Evgeny Svetlanov
  • Ensemble: BBC Symphony Orchestra
  • Notes: Composition written: 1913.
  • Running Time: 40 min. 1 sec.
  • Period Time: Post Romantic
  • Written: 1913

>Prokofiev, Sergey : Alexander Nevsky, cantata for mezzo-soprano, chorus & orchestra, Op. 78
  • Performer: Alfreda Hodgson (Alto)
  • Conductor: Evgeny Svetlanov
  • Ensemble: Philharmonia Orchestra Chorus
  • Running Time: 37 min. 4 sec.
  • Period Time: Modern
  • Form: Cantata/Oratorio
  • Written: 1938