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John Quinn
MusicWeb International, December 2012

The release of this hugely exciting disc marked the tenth anniversary of Evgeny Svetlanov’s death. He was in poor health when he conducted this performance of The Bells but this electrifying performance sounds like the work of a fully fit man in his forties. It was to be his last concert; a matter of days later he died so it’s good that his final performance shows him at his considerable best. The live account of Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky, given in 1988 is also pretty special. This is a phenomenal issue! © 2012 MusicWeb International

Raymond Tuttle
Fanfare, November 2012

Here…we have one absolutely fabulous performance (The Bells) and one very good one (Alexander Nevsky), and I would even give them preference over Svetlanov’s studio recordings of these same works.

With gorgeous live sound to boot, this version of The Bells really rings my chimes, so to speak. This is a work that stands or falls with the quality of the chorus. When I first auditioned this disc, I was unaware that I was not hearing a native Russian group; that’s how good the BBC Symphony Chorus is here. Tenor Daniil Shtoda…displays brilliance of both sound and temperament, and the first movement, depicting the silver sleigh bells of youth, has great élan. Sergei Leiferkus is appropriately mournful in the funereal fourth movement; as with Shtoda, familiarity with the language and the style pays off.

…there is a lot to like here. I’d get this if I were you. © 2012 Fanfare Read complete review

Lawrence Hansen
American Record Guide, September 2012

Svetlanov’s interpretations gained depth as he grew older, and the results are often spectacular, as they are here in the Rachmaninoff…I have to say that few are as immediately gratifying and gripping as this one…Almost every other recording has at least a few moments that drag a little—not so here. Svetlanov keeps the line taut through the entire performance; and even the quiet passages, though certainly never hurried, are clearly part of the overall arc of the work.

If there is urgency and febrile energy in I and III, there’s a remarkable mixture of repose and longing in II and IV. Of course, that’s in Rachmaninoff’s score, but here the otherworldly concentration also comes from the conductor. Svetlanov was a dying man; this performance was the last one he conducted. He passed away at his home in Moscow two weeks later. But there is no ebbing of life-force in this performance. © 2012 American Record Guide Read complete review on American Record Guide online

Hi-Fi News & Record Review, August 2012

The clean, shimmering opening textures of The Bells (Barbican 2002 – Svetlanov’s very last concert performance) and eager choral singing throughout will be a relief to those who have Svetlanov’s brashly balanced USSR Melodiya recording. The close-miked solo voices didn’t appeal to me—my first choice is the Previn/EMI with British singers. But the Prokofiev (RFH 1988) is another matter: it’s one of the finest live performances I have ever heard on CD. Every detail is clear in heavy orchestration; Prokofiev’s themes have a stark beauty; and Alfreda Hodgson in ‘The Field of the Dead’, after a terrific ‘Battle on the Ice’, is quite lovely. © 2012 Hi-Fi News

John Quinn
MusicWeb International, August 2012

The cantata which Prokofiev fashioned from his music for Eisenstein’s 1938 Film, Alexander Nevsky, may not contain his greatest music and may not be his most subtle score but it’s vivid, dramatic and powerful stuff. The Technicolour orchestration and exciting music might be thought to be right up Evgeny Svetlanov’s street and this 1988 concert recording proves that it was indeed so. He’s right on top of his game in this performance and so too are the Philharmonia Chorus and Orchestra.

The music leaps out of the loudspeakers right from the start. There’s lowering menace in ‘The Crusaders in Pskov’—Svetlanov racks up the tension superbly—and soon afterwards we reach the celebrated ‘Battle on the Ice’. This is bitingly dramatic. Svetlanov builds the music masterfully into a headlong charge. The battle, depicted through some razor-sharp Philharmonia playing, is frenetically exciting. This is visceral stuff yet Svetlanov avoids any suggestion of crudity. After the battle has finished the quiet end—right out of Romeo and Juliet—is delicately done.

‘The Field of the Dead’ brings us a reminder of the artistry of Alfreda Hodgson—and a reminder, too, of what a great loss was her tragically early death just four years later at the age of fifty-two. She sings with wonderfully rich tone and she manages to be deeply expressive without any excess. The concluding ‘Alexander’s Entry into Pskov’ is joyful and exultant…With the Philharmonia Chorus in full-throated voice Svetlanov fashions a splendidly celebratory end to the work—no wonder he holds the final chord on for so long!

This tumultuous and idiomatically performance of Alexander Nevsky, superbly executed is tremendous stuff. Surely the disc can’t get any better?

Oh, yes, it can!

On a couple of occasions in the past when reviewing Rachmaninov performances I’ve expressed the hope that one day this 2002 Svetlanov performance of The Bells might make it onto disc. Now, ten years after the conductor’s death, prayers have been answered.

The performance starts auspiciously with bright, fresh orchestral playing in the opening to ‘The Silver Sleigh Bells’. The first choral entry is splendidly forthright and it’s soon clear that in Daniil Shtoda we have the right sort of voice for the tenor solo. He’s tremendously virile and clear and I thought his performance was superb. The choral singing is just as fine and, all in all, this is an opening of great impact. The BBC Symphony Chorus is well recorded and sounds excellent whether they’re singing full out or, as often in this piece, at a quieter volume level. We can also hear the orchestra with excellent clarity.

Svetlanov fashions a deeply-felt introduction to ‘The Mellow Wedding Bells’; the BBCSO strings excel here, producing a rich sound. Elena Prokina is a passionate soloist. She sings with a fair amount of vibrato but I don’t find it excessive, at least not for this type of music. All the performers display ardour at times in this movement but there’s also a fine amount of tenderness. The scherzo—‘The Loud Alarum Bells’—is conducted with huge drive; can this really be the work of an ailing man who would be dead within a fortnight? Svetlanov galvanises his choir and orchestra who, thus challenged, deliver a flamboyant performance. The music is impelled forward in a thrilling, headlong fashion.

At the start of ‘The Mournful Iron Bells’ we hear a doleful cor anglais threnody during a lugubrious orchestral introduction. Sergei Leiferkus is a commanding, baleful vocal presence and sings magnificently. In Svetlanov’s hands the music broods. Like Leiferkus, the choir once more rises to the occasion. It’s a very intense, very Russian-sounding performance. The brief, poignant coda (from 9:54) exemplifies the outstanding contribution throughout the whole work of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. This is a tremendous, gripping performance of The Bells. If there’s a better one in the catalogue I should love to hear it.

The recorded sound in both performances is excellent. The Barbican can be a problematic acoustic but it seems to me that the BBC engineers did an excellent job in the Rachmaninov and the Prokofiev score is reported well in the Royal Festival Hall. Both these works require sound that has clarity and presence and that’s what we get.

This is a phenomenal disc! It shows Evgeny Svetlanov at his incandescent, inspirational best. At his best—as he is here—Svetlanov had few equals in Russian repertoire. © 2012 MusicWeb International © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review

Robert Cummings
Classical Net, August 2012

These live performances document the considerable talent of the Russian conductor Evgeny Svetlanov…The Rachmaninov concert is an important historic event for those interested in Svetlanov, because it was his last concert. He died two weeks later.

The Bells, touted by many as Rachmaninov’s greatest work (a viewpoint hard to challenge), gets an intense and powerful reading from Svetlanov…the Svetlanov account of The Bells gets a pretty strong thumbs up.

The coupling is, of course, Prokofiev’s popular cantata Alexander Nevsky. Again the performance is very compelling…Alfreda Hodgson turns in fine singing in The Field of the Dead…Svetlanov’s effort has very good sound for its time…Still, because it is miked closely with good balances, you hear much detail in the scoring that is often buried in other recordings.

To admirers of Svetlanov, this recording is a must. Others who might be interested in these two masterpieces will find both performances compelling and worth their while. © 2012 Classical Net Read complete review

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