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Gramophone, October 2009

Alexander Anissimov’s 1997 Naxos one with National Symphony Orchestra and RTÉ Philharmonic Choir…Helen Field, singing for Anissimov, is a real delight in the slow movement, poignant, lyrical and clear in enunciation in a performance that has two fine Russians (tenor Ivan Choupenitch and baritone Oleg Melnikov) as the other soloists and an approach to the score that transmits a broad, well honed spectrum of emotion.

Victor Carr Jr., December 2001

In his atmospheric rendition of Rachmaninov’s The Rock, conductor Alexander Anissimov delights in the Rimsky-Korsakov-style fantasy of the music while emphasizing its drama, making this one of the best recordings since Walter Weller’s fluid and expressive reading on Decca (which, along with his Rachmaninov symphonies has yet to see laser light). Though it might not seem so at first, The Rock actually makes a nice lead-in to The Bells, with its somber sounds gently usurped by the joyful ringing of the celesta and flutes. Joyful also describes Anissimov’s performance of The Bells’ first movement. After tenor Ivan Choupenitch’s record long-held note on ’Slyshish’, the chorus enters exuberantly though not with the voluminous massed sonority of the Russian Republican Capelle for Kondrashin.

The RTE Philharmonic Choir, an Irish-based ensemble, makes a pretty impressive show of itself throughout this performance, not least for its convincingly Slavic sound. Ireland’s National Symphony also transcends geography, paradoxically sounding more Russian than Pletnev’s Russian National band does on his recent Deutsche Grammophon recording. For this Anissimov certainly deserves the credit: listen to how his trumpets peal against the strings in the second movement’s great ascending orchestral interlude, or how in the finale the winds and brass snarl like ghostly specters from the yet-to-be-composed Symphonic Dances. Helen Field’s singing in the wedding song is at once soothing and seductive, while Oleg Melnikov intones the bells of death with the requisite gravity and sense of finality. Despite the enormous dynamic range inherent in this work, Naxos’ recording captures it all vividly, managing to convey both size and detail. Budget or no, these are Bells you ought to hear.

Graham Dwyer
The Daily Yomiuri (Tokyo), September 2001

Rachmaninoff is best known for the luscious Romantic melodies of his transcendentally difficult piano concertos and a few solo piano works such as the Prelude in C sharp minor (a piece he grew to hate, such was its popularity). The two orchestral pieces paired on this new Naxos recording show a different side to the composer, that of a thoughtful, resourceful and literary-minded romantic.

The first piece on the CD is The Rock, a Fantasie for orchestra completed when the composer was only 20. It was inspired by a Lermontov poem, which in turn was based on a Chekhov story. This fascinating early piece is well in keeping with its brooding subject—the tale of a traveler dogged by life’s failures who meets a sympathetic young woman at an inn who listens to his troubles before they part as snow falls around him. The orchestration is luscious, as are some of the melodies, which sometimes hark directly back to the nationalistic style of Rimsky-Korsakov, showing that the young Rachmaninoff had not yet found his own voice…The little-known National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland under Alexander Anissimov do a neat job of bringing these big works to life, supported by soprano Helen Field (who has done great work on the stage for Britain’s national opera companies), tenor Ivan Choupenitch and bass Oleg Melnikov.

The performers may be largely unknowns and the Naxos label in the budget range, but there is nothing anonymous about this performance, and lovers of post-Romantic symphonic poems will find much to enjoy.

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