Mariss Jansons / Bavarian Radio Chorus / Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra

Sergey Rachmaninov: The Bells; Symphonic Dances

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Rachmaninov's The Bells is of vast scope, setting an adaptation of a poem by Edgar Allan Poe (free enough that the Russian text is generally retranslated into English, as in the graphics here) depicting bells that mark the entire life cycle of an individual. The composer sometimes referred to it as his third symphony, and indeed it has that kind of synoptic ambition. It is written for a large orchestra, a choir, and three soloists, and all the legs of this triad are superbly realized here. Sample the third movement, which represents the tumult and misery of everyday life: conductor Mariss Jansons, leading the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, shows why the group is one of the absolute best in the world in this kind of large-ensemble repertory. It's gripping. The choir has a solidly consistent rich Germanic sound that contrasts nicely with the styles of the three soloists, all Russian. Everything falls into place here, and while there are fine Russian versions of the work, the electricity of the live performance here, very nicely recorded by Bavarian Radio's own engineers, puts this version in a class by itself. The late Symphonic Dances, Rachmaninov's final work, has a different and somewhat nostalgic tone; it was the composer's only work written entirely in the U.S. Its prominent saxophone part is especially evocative here. A top-notch Rachmaninov release all around.

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