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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rattle fills a void in the Rachmaninov catalog with impressively virtuosic readings, 27 Aug. 2013
This review is from: Rachmaninov: The Bells; Symphonic Dances (Audio CD)
Despite being some of Rachmaninoff greatest works, there are few virtuoso recordings of The Bells and Symphonic Dances. The Berlin Philharmonic has never had a principal conductor known for Rachmaninov and to my knowledge this is their first recording of The Bells. Rattle has barely touched Rachmaninov, so has he been able to acclimate to the Russian temperament?

Rachmaninov considered The Bells his favorite composition, but it hasn't been recorded by today's leading Russian maestros, particularly Gergiev, Petrenko, and Jurowski. On ICA Classics there is a memorable recording from Svetlanov and the BBC Symphony that is full of dark, Russian soul. Jose Serebrier and Gianandrea Noseda have contributed readings that are likewise idiomatic and very Russian. Naturally, Rattle's account doesn't have the same flavor, given that he's a British conductor working with a German orchestra and choir. Thankfully the soloists, Luba Orgonasova, Dimytro Popov, and Mikhail Petrenko are Russian and very fine. From the opening bars of "The Silver Sleigh Bells", we enter a world that is more exuberant and carefree--there's no trace of darkness. Critics may complain that Rattle isn't Russian enough, but as we progress, we find music-making that is full of orchestral playing better by far than anything else on disc, bringing out a new world of detail. Surprisingly, Rattle ends up sounding more energetic than most of his rivals on disc. His tempos lean on the fast side and he finds his success in reading into the score's modernity and wide range of color. The alarm bells of the 3rd movement, for instance, build with startling vividness. In my estimation, the Rundfunkchor Berlin makes up for not being Russian with its highly accomplished sound that transmits the music with detailed accuracy. The only complaint listeners may have is that the account isn't Russian enough. While it's true that this reading doesn't displace rival Russian readings, I think it fills a unique place. It would be hard to deny the fervor emanated from all involved, recorded from the same concerts as the Le Sacre released in April.

There's not as great a shortage of readings of the Symphonic Dances, but few could truly be described as virtuosic. Ashkenazy's reading with the Concertgebouw was jaunty and lighthearted without aiming for orchestral depth. On the other hand, Gergiev's recent LSO Live recording was grave and serious, not one to highlight the solos or orchestration. The up-and-coming Petrenko almost seemed our best option, with fiery conducting that was dramatic without being heavy-footed, but he didn't have a great orchestra in the Royal Liverpool Phil. Rattle took advantage of his opportunity and we now have a new great reading that utilizes both the individuality and crushing impact of the Berliners. But for all his highlighting of new details, Rattle doesn't come across as fussy, his afflicting flaw. Anyone who finds deficits in Rattle's conducting has found flaws I'm incapable of hearing. The sonority of the Berliners, voiced impeccably, is staggering in full cry, making the most of the dramatic potential. Equally captivating, of course, are the many solos sprinkled throughout the work. I can assure you they are on a level far above anything else on disc.

Since he came to these works with little background in Rachmaninov, I feared Rattle might seem out of touch in these works. But instead we have readings that can be compared with the best, with incomparable playing--bravo.
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Showing 1-10 of 10 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 3 Sep 2013 10:52:56 BDT
zhms says:
"Rattle has barely touched Rachmaninov, so has he been able to acclimate to the Russian temperament?"
eh?
Rattle has been conducting Rachmaninov with conspicuous success for years. I heard him in The Bells with the Philharmonia and the Second Symphony with the LPO both in the early 1980s and his earlier CBSO Symphonic Dances which only recently found its way to CD, was always one of his finest records. I am by no means a fan of everything Rattle does, but try his 1995 Shostakovich 4 if you want a little evidence that he can "acclimate to the Russian temperament".

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Sep 2013 12:21:49 BDT
Thanks for your comment. I know Rattle has acclimated to the Russian temperament, particularly in his chilling Shostakovich 14 in Berlin. Or his recent Le Sacre, if that is considered Russian. I threw the question out there more because I know that's the question most critics were asking about this disc in particular.

In reply to an earlier post on 29 Sep 2015 16:15:42 BDT
I agree with your comments, and his uncut recording of the 2nd with the LA Phil Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 2 is still a marvelous recording after almost twenty years. Rattle does, indeed, know his Rachmaninov. Mr. Barnard's review of Rattle displays a lack of understanding or familiarity with the conductor.

In reply to an earlier post on 29 Sep 2015 16:34:06 BDT
I was referring to his work on disc. I own most of Rattle's albums. Commenters like you who nitpick over every little detail in reviews are the reason some of the finest reviewers have left Amazon.

In reply to an earlier post on 29 Sep 2015 16:55:28 BDT
Oh please ... you didn't even mention the earlier Rattle recording in your review. But don't worry, SFL hasn't left Amazon yet, but I keep hoping!

In reply to an earlier post on 29 Sep 2015 16:57:46 BDT
[Deleted by the author on 29 Sep 2015 17:20:56 BDT]

In reply to an earlier post on 29 Sep 2015 17:08:56 BDT
You've learned well from your mentor, young SFL. I retire my side and will forgo anymore meaningless conversation for either of us. P.S. there is nothing "mooching" in any of comments I've made. My only comment was that your summary of Rattle's Rachmaninov was incomplete; I intimated no wisdom on the subject.

In reply to an earlier post on 29 Sep 2015 17:11:34 BDT
I left Amazon, created my own site, and have written many reviews that take a different tack than SFL. I must say, though, that SFL writes considerably better reviews than you do.

In reply to an earlier post on 29 Sep 2015 17:19:33 BDT
I don't write for a living, and I don't disagree with you last comment; however, I never call someone names like a "gnat", or other disparaging terms because they disagree with me. SFL has elevated himself to a very high plateau that does him a disservice. I wish you luck with your website and your writing.

In reply to an earlier post on 29 Sep 2015 17:24:58 BDT
I agree with you on SFL's bad commenting habits, actually. Forgive me for letting my frustration get out of control.
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