Sergey Rachmaninov The Bells & Symphonic Dances

February 9, 2018



BRK 900154


“The Bells” (Die Glocken)  was written in 1913 and is based on the Edgar Allen Poe poem. To put this in perspective Sergey was to do only 10 compositions until his death in 1943, a period of 30 years. The poem was sent to Sergey anonymously along with a letter urging him to write a work about it. It was translated by Konstantin Balmont (1867-1943) and it was different in many ways from the original Poe poem. Divided into four parts the work tells the story through the bells, orchestra, and voice. The first movement with sleigh bells  suggests youth and care free times. The chorus is singing a lullaby and it is a dreamy sequence. All is happy and well in Russia. The beginning of the work reminds me of Bernard Herrmann. Only a few bars but a noteworthy observation.

In the second movement Balmont’s verses switch to the golden bells ringing, solemn, serious, and significant. A wedding? A solo soprano reveals a sensual bliss for the blessed occasion.

In the third movement we now hear the fierce real world of day to day life. The movement is quite disturbing offering little hope.

The final movement talks about death. The swinging bell is the coffin’s peace.There are many references to the end in this movement. The bell has spoken.

Rachmaninov’s final work, “Symphonic Dances” (1940), is a return to his ballet “The Scythians” (1915) where he dealt with ancient horsemen.

The first movement begins with staccato type phrasing complete with drums which represent the riders. The mood quickly shifts and we hear a theme from a mourning alto saxophone which is peaceful.

Tempo di Valse is the order of the day for the second movement and we hear a somewhat typical Russian Waltz with flute, the blaring of trumpets, and clarinet.

Rachmaninov knew that this final third movement was to be his last and he gave indications with “Dies Irae” and “Blessed be the Lord. “This was subtly written to be his swansong in nature although it begins as a piece that Ravel could have written (Rhapsody Espangol).

Overall this is one of my favorite orchestral works that I have several of in my collection. The advantage of this recording is the coupling with “The Bells” 74 minutes of material by a seasoned conductor on nicely recorded CD. If you don’t have these works they will be a welcome addition to your collection.


One Response to “Sergey Rachmaninov The Bells & Symphonic Dances”

  1. mayamesola Says:

    Nice. Was thinking of Rachmaninov yesterday and I will listen to this LP.

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