Friday, 20 January 2012

Rachmaninov's The Bells

On Wednesday 29th February the Bach Choir, under their director David Hills, will be performing Rachmaninov's The Bells at the South Bank Centre, further details here.

After writing his cantata Spring, Rachmaninov looked around unsuccessfully for another choral subject. Finally someone sent him a translation of Edgar Allan Poe's poem. Rachmaninov sets the piece as mirroring the cycle from birth to death. The result is a choral symphony,which was premiered in 1913. The four movements are:-

  • Allegro ma non tanto ('The Silver Sleigh Bells')
  • Lento ('The Mellow Wedding Bells')
  • Presto ('The Loud Alarum Bells')
  • Lento lugubre ('The Mournful Iron Bells')
Its a work not too often performed in the UK and it will be fascinating to hear it. Interestingly, Joseph Holbrooke set the same poem, in the original language and his piece was premiered in Birmingham in 1906. Now that might be a fascinating thing to hear as well.

Rather enterprisingly, the Bach choir are teaming the choral symphony up with the very cantata, Spring, which Rachmaninov was writing just before. They add to this the ever popular 3rd piano concerto, played by Leon McCawley.

The orchestra is the Chetham's Symphony Orchestra, an orchestra made up of pupils of Chetham's School, the UK's largest music school; the Chetham's Chamber Choir will also be joining the Bach Choir. The orchestra has an enviable reputation and it will be a great opportunity to hear them. I remember the school from my own student days in Manchester (when I was at UMIST). The school itself has ancient origins, the oldest buildings date from the 1400's and the school was re-founded in 1653. It was originally simply a boys Grammar school but in the 1960's the remarkable decision was taken to change it into a mixed school specialising in music. The school currently has major development plans, with a new building being projected and the opening up of the historic buildings. All very exciting.

So an interesting concert AND an opportunity to hear an orchestra from a historic institution. What more could you want.

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