Recorded live at the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory in April, 2010 (the last concert of the First International Rostropovich Festival) the major work here is, of course, The Bells. This is one of Rachmaninov's finest large compositions, perhaps his greatest. It is, as most of his admirers know, a choral symphony of considerable depth, a work based on Balmont's translation of the famous Edgar Allan Poe poem of the same title. In the opening movement Serebrier draws a spirited, quite detailed performance from the orchestra and chorus in the outer sections and does not shortchange the darker moments in the middle section. Tenor Andrei Popov turns in a fine effort here as well.
In the second movement Serebrier catches the heart of this lovely music, though soprano Lyubov Petrova seems to struggle a bit and her vibrato veers close to a wobble in places, not an unusual trait for a Russian soprano, it must be noted. Still, this and the ensuing Scherzo, with its diabolical and hysterical music, come through quite convincingly. The closing Lento lugubre is icy cold, as it should be, and Serebrier delivers a truly powerful reading of this movement. Sergei Leiferkus is excellent here, too. I must say that this final movement conveys the sense of death and mourning about as effectively as any piece of music, even the Mahler Ninth Symphony Adagio, which Rachmaninoff seems to move close to in spirit here. Anyway, this is a fine performance of The Bells, perhaps on the same level as the early-stereo Kondrashin on Melodiya, a benchmark of sorts in this work. Pletnev on DG also offers a compelling performance.
The fillers surrounding this work (The Bells comes on track 3) are all performed well. The Shostakovich Festive Overture is a brief light work that pops up quite often on concerts and recordings these days. Serebrier delivers a spirited, colorful reading. Glazunov's Chant du ménestrel draws fine playing from cellist Wen-Sinn Yang in this understated late-Romantic work of less than five minutes duration.
The two arrangements that close out the disc are, alongside each other, horses of a different color. The Stokowski-arranged Khovanshchina Entr'acte is dark and full of angst, whereas the Rachmaninoff Vocalise is lovely and brimming with romantic yearning. I like the Stokowski arrangement, and while Serebrier, who is a composer of some note in his own right, fashions a lovely rendition of the famous Rachmaninoff wordless song, his scoring – mainly for strings, with English horn, oboe and flute – is less compelling in its somewhat grayish colors.
The sound on the disc is vivid and quite full, despite its live origins. All in all, this disc, truly a mixed bag of repertory, is a worthwhile offering. Recommended.
Copyright © 2010, Robert Cummings