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NMSO concert review: Rachmaninoff, ``The Bells''

The article below appeared in the Albuquerque Journal of March 9, 2007.


“Bells” Charm NMSO Audience

by D.S. Crafts

Roger Melone must believe in keeping his chorus busy. The last two New Mexico Symphony Orchestra Classics concerts have each produced resplendent choral exhibitions.

What a treat!

It was only last month that the NMSO and the Chorus brought out an exciting version of Carmina Burana. Last weekend they turned to Rachmaninoff's The Bells: no mean feat in either case.

Edgar Allan Poe and Sergei Rachmaninoff might initially strike one as an odd pairing. Yet Rachmaninoff came to Poe's onomatopoetic rhapsody “The Bells” through the translation of Russian symbolist poet Konstantin Balmont. The four-movement work might best be described as a choral symphony illustrating the meanings of the sounds of bells at various points in one's life.

Though set in Russian, the work was sung here in English and supertitles also were provided in lieu of a printed text. Calling for an enormous orchestra as well as chorus plus three vocal soloists, the musicians filled every inch of the stage in Popejoy Hall.

The joy of the silvery sleigh bells was immediately apparent recalling the innocence of youth. A warm and ingratiating Lento spoke of golden wedding bells and the promise of life.

But in the Presto, the alarm bells, first ringing in the orchestra, brought the singers to full throttle as the shriek of the brazen bells calls forth everyone to fight the flames of destruction.

Finally, as the funereal bells sounded lugubriously, baritone Ricardo Lugo's demonstrative pronouncements were quite chilling. The work ended movingly, with a near-Wagnerian apotheosis.

For Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1, guest soloist Andrew von Oeyen took the stage. Tall and lanky, he recalls a young Van Cliburn (who made this work virtually his own in past decades). Von Oeyen, who made his debut at age 17 with the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Esa-Pekka Salonen, is a brilliant young pianist with all the tools at his command.

In this quirky writing that seems to revel in sudden juxtapositions of contrasting dynamics, he tackled both with masterful command. In the Andante semplice he showed a warm, even sensuous playing, while the scherzolike prestissimo of the same movement was pure quicksilver: effervescent wisps of sound from the keys.

The winds of the orchestra seemed to revel in the colors that Tchaikovsky loved.

But it was the final movement, compositionally the most integral, that brought the players to their best. Maestro Guillermo Figueroa led the musicians with an obvious passion, as von Oeyen stunned everyone with an emotional power not soon forgotten.


Next: NMSO concert review: Orff, ``Carmina Burana''
See also: New Mexico Symphony Orchestra Chorus: schedule and reviews, 1995–2011
Previous: NMSO concert review: Getty, ``Plump Jack''
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John W. Shipman, john@nmt.edu
Last updated: 2007/03/16 01:31:31
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