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  Rachmaninov: The Bells, Symphonic Dances - Bychkov
  Rachmaninov: The Bells Op. 35, Symphonic Dances Op. 45

Tatiana Pavlovskaya
Evgeny Akimov
Vladimir Vaneev
Lege Artis Chamber Choir
WDR Rundfunkchor
Sinfonieorchester Köln
Semyon Bychkov (conductor)
Track listing:
Recording type:
Recording info:

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Related titles: 5

Reviews: 3

Site review by Castor September 3, 2007
Performance:   Sonics:  
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Review by Geohominid August 7, 2007 (18 of 18 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
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Review by seth February 27, 2010 (10 of 11 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
Since Geohominid has written so descriptively about The Bells, I’ll focus on the "Symphonic Dances."

The "Symphonic Dances" is my favorite orchestral piece by Rachmaninov (so that means I’m considering the “Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini” music for orchestra and piano solo). Unlike the popular Second Symphony which is heavy on the strings, the orchestration in the Dances is much more balanced between the brass, winds and percussion. Rachmaninov seems much more interested in exploring the colors of the orchestra –- after all, the Danes was written to be a showpiece for the Philadelphia Orchestra. With the exception of the first minutes of the both the first and third movements, the tempi throughout is deliberate. But this allows Rachmoninov to do some interesting things, like the extensive use of saxophone in the first movement. I suppose the reason the piece isn’t more popular is because it lacks a movement that’s a solid 10 minutes of rip-roaring music (but the last 3 minutes are pretty damn exciting).

I’ve always had a hard time objectively evaluating performances of the Dances – some performances either “have it,” others comes off as underpowered and thin (such as Temirkanov). I would say that Bychkov mostly falls into the “have it” category. While I suspect it’s partly the results of the halls acoustics and microphone placement, percussion instruments are featured prominently in this recording. They’re certainly never overpowering, but the altered balance does offer a view of the work that I’m not accustom to hearing. For instance, though I have never seen the score, I suspect that the snare drum in the last movement is much louder than Rachmoninov intended. But it works.

Two moments in this piece that I obsess about -- and from other reviews I see that I’m not alone -- are the first and final whacks of the tam-tam in the third movement coda. For whatever reason, in concert and on recording, they are frequently near inaudible. They’re so perfectly placed that when I listen to Rachmaninov's arrangement of the Dances for two pianos, I always miss hearing them. Anyway, Bychkov nails them, allowing the final note of the tam-tam to slowly decay. I will note that John Eliot Gardiner, of all people, is the master of the tam-tam in the Dances. It takes about 8 seconds for the final note to decay in his recording.

My only real criticism is a global one: the strings are not quite prominent enough. Throughout their sound is slightly muted. The brighter string sound and careful use of vibrato in Jansons’ EMI recording does make a significant difference.

In surround sound, the acoustics are slightly dry, but not problematic. The timpani and bass drum are too boomy, but do pack a lot of impact – your neighbors will take notice of this recording. The timbre of the instruments sound quite lifelike.

Recommended (and at the time of this publication, the recording can be purchased new for only $9)

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Works: 2  

Sergei Rachmaninov - Symphonic Dances, Op. 45
Sergei Rachmaninov - The Bells, Op. 35