Rachmaninov: The Bells; Taneyev, John of Damascus

The Bells, op.35
John of Damascus op.1
Mikhail Pletnev, conductor
DG 471 029-2
Purchase via RNO iTunes


BBC Music Magazine

A magnificent performance, immaculately prepared, benefiting from the rock-solid sound of a professional Russian choir. [In] the second movement, [soprano] Marina Mescheriakova is simply enchanting and this movement as a whole is completely bewitching under Pletnev. [The] third movement reading offers transparent sound and a convincing feel for the sweep and drama of the music. [In the last movement, baritone] Vladimir Chernov brings a pleasing amount of subtlety to what could be a stereotypical vocal role... Pletnev’s sound is also excellent [and] the orchestra is exceptional.

Audiophile Audition

... The Russian performers win the day vs. some of the more tepid Western recorded versions of The Bells.

Gramophone Magazine

...Pletnev as a conductor has always caught my imagination. I think there's something about instrumentalists who conduct that sets them apart. In Pletnev's case there are absolutely no shortcomings with his conducting technique and the Russian National Orchestra play with immense virtuosity. The Bells is the first time that Pletnev has recorded a choral work and his performance has a real Russian flavor to it. If you don't know Rachmaninov's The Bells, it sheds a very different light on a composer we all too often associate with a couple of piano concertos and perhaps one of the symphonies. He was a real master of orchestral color and also had a great feel for setting words to music. Perhaps it's not too fanciful to equate Rachmaninov the virtuoso/pianist and composer with Pletnev the virtuoso/pianist and conductor (and he is also a composer!).

International Record Review

Just as it is hard to imagine a non-English-speaking choir doing full justice to Vaughan Williams's Sea Symphony, so it's near-contemporary Russian cousin ideally needs all-Russian forces in order to do it full justice. This is just what we have here, and the results are superb. ... As Pletnev's DG recordings of the numbered symphonies have already shown, he knows just how to blend Rachmaninov's characteristic moods to their best advantage - the delicacy, the sensuousness, the wild enthusiasm, the over-arching sadness, all are faithfully captured. Behind the mellow wedding bells of the second movement Pletnev finds a deep longing, and he holds the mood of the sombre finale marvellously.
... Taneyev's Op. 1 cantata makes an adventurous coupling ... and Pletnev directs a stirring performance.

Opera News

Mikhail Pletnev taps into the music's profound melancholy without sacrificing any of its sonic glitter or dramatic brio. In the opening movement, one can almost feel the icy breeze as the sleighs jingle by, and the quick transition into the hushed central section is absolutely magical... The second movement is languorous, hypnotic and almost disconcertingly sexy. ... [Pletnev] elicits impassioned and virtuosic performances from the Moscow State Chamber Choir and his own Russian National Orchestra. In this conductor's hands, the clang, clash and roar of Poe's alarm bells in the third movement are truly terrifying, an effect that results from careful attention to details of orchestral balance, articulation and color, rather than from histrionic arm-waving. ... The fervent conviction of Pletnev's performance makes it well worth hearing.

What They’re Saying

"I saw the greatest orchestra in the world play Friday night. If you think that's hyperbole, ask anyone who was in Yardley Hall that night. The Russian National Orchestra is the Rolls-Royce of orchestras, no ordinary ensemble."

The Kansas City Star