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Thread: Help Please on Rachmaninoff's "The Bells"

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    Default Help Please on Rachmaninoff's "The Bells"

    Eons ago I worked in a CM radio station and remember playing The Bells from the station library and liking it -- but never bothered to follow up at the time. The problem was, the recording (Philadelphia/Ormandy) was in English, which is appropriate to the Poe poem it was a setting of. Every subsequent recording I have run across to refamilarize myself with it has been in Russian -- which I presume it was written to -- but is weird to my ears. I want it in English. Anyone out there know any good English language recordings?
    Thanks.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    The only one I know of in English is Leonard Slatkin's. It's a good performance. I have it on a Vox 3 disc set of Rachmaninoff's orchestral works.

    You should know that Rachmaninoff set a Russian translation of a French adaptation of the Poe poem, so when you hear it in English it's thrice removed from Poe. But regardless of language it's a unique and wonderful piece, Rachmaninoff's avowed favorite among his works.

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    Senior Member Larkenfield's Avatar
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    Here’s Ormandy’s recording of The Bells recorded in late 1954 with an English translation. It might be the one you remember... I do not go along as with those who don’t care for this recording. This is Poe and sometimes the voices are supposed to sound a little bit weird, strange, or crazy: ’the poem has four parts to it; each part becomes darker and darker as the poem progresses from "the jingling and the tinkling" of the bells in part 1 to the "moaning and the groaning" of the bells in part 4.’ I thought the orchestra sounded very good in this vintage recording Despite the pops and surface noise of the vinyl.



    PART III

    Hear the loud alarum bells—
    Brazen bells!
    What a tale of terror, now, their turbulency tells!
    In the startled ear of night
    How they scream out their affright!
    Too much horrified to speak,
    They can only shriek, shriek,
    Out of tune,
    In a clamorous appealing to the mercy of the fire,
    In a mad expostulation with the deaf and frantic fire,
    Leaping higher, higher, higher,
    With a desperate desire,
    And a resolute endeavor,
    Now- now to sit or never,
    By the side of the pale-faced moon.
    Oh, the bells, bells, bells!
    What a tale their terror tells
    Of Despair!
    How they clang, and clash, and roar!
    What a horror they outpour
    On the bosom of the palpitating air!
    Yet the ear it fully knows,
    By the twanging,
    And the clanging,
    How the danger ebbs and flows:
    Yet the ear distinctly tells,
    In the jangling,
    And the wrangling,
    How the danger sinks and swells,
    By the sinking or the swelling in the anger of the bells—
    Of the bells—
    Of the bells, bells, bells,bells,
    Bells, bells, bells—
    In the clamor and the clangor of the bells!

    Part IV is even darker and more disturbing...
    Last edited by Larkenfield; Sep-08-2018 at 05:18.
    "That's all Folks!"

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    The recording Ormandy made for RCA is in English, but soloists totally ruin the day - avoid at all costs.

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    Senior Member brianvds's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    The only one I know of in English is Leonard Slatkin's. It's a good performance. I have it on a Vox 3 disc set of Rachmaninoff's orchestral works.

    You should know that Rachmaninoff set a Russian translation of a French adaptation of the Poe poem, so when you hear it in English it's thrice removed from Poe. But regardless of language it's a unique and wonderful piece, Rachmaninoff's avowed favorite among his works.
    It's a peculiar thing, but while I am generally a fan of Rach, The Bells is the one work of his that completely fails to do anything at all for me. Don't really know why, and it frustrates me.

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    I believe the Previn ICA Classics DVD is in English though.
    I am not positive though.

    http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/...lbum_id=612237

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    Thank you, everyone!

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by brianvds View Post
    It's a peculiar thing, but while I am generally a fan of Rach, The Bells is the one work of his that completely fails to do anything at all for me. Don't really know why, and it frustrates me.
    That's fascinating. Are you familiar with his cantata, "Spring"?

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rmathuln View Post
    I believe the Previn ICA Classics DVD is in English though.
    I am not positive though.

    http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/...lbum_id=612237
    The reviewer on ArkivMusic says it's in English, but remarks that the words are still not always clearly audible. But that's not unusual.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    That's fascinating. Are you familiar with his cantata, "Spring"?
    Nope. Didn't even know about it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    The only one I know of in English is Leonard Slatkin's.
    Thanks. I bought this 42-track download of Rachmaninoff with Slatkin and was listening to The Bells. It struck me oddly that it was in English. Now I know. I also have it on my Ashkenazy set, so will listen to that next. Think I might like it better sung in Russian.
    Last edited by Fritz Kobus; Jan-02-2020 at 06:34.
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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    It is odd that it's in English. ^ ^ ^ It's also odd that it's in Russian. An English translation of a Russian paraphrase of Poe by Konstantin Balmont. Odd from any perspective. I have a recording on vinyl of Ormandy/Philadelphia that includes the Three Russian Songs Op. 41. Does anyone else hear the strong influence of choral scenes from Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov in the third movement?

    What greater comfort does time afford than the objects of terror re-encountered and their fraudulence exposed in the flash of reason?
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    ^^^ Anything in Russian, and with bells in it to boot, sounds like Boris! But yes of course, good point. Rachmaninov at his most Russian is "very Russian indeed", here, Vespers, St.John Liturgy.

    The influence of Mussorgsky in general is under-valued, I reckon....

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    I had the above when I was in high school. It is sung in English. I have NEVER heard a better interpretation.

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    Senior Member Taplow's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by robin4 View Post


    I had the above when I was in high school. It is sung in English. I have NEVER heard a better interpretation.
    Appears to be available on streaming sources, and as a Naxos Classical Archive mp3 release via Amazon.

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