Review by: David Hurwitz
Artistic Quality: 8
Sound Quality: 9
Joan and the Bells is a dramatic cantata in three movements that lasts about 21 never-boring minutes. The two outer movements depict Joan’s judgment and martyrdom (leading to a very powerful closing “transfiguration”), while the lovely central picture of the heroine making her peace with God offers arguably the most compelling music of all–by degrees intimate and moving. The performance recorded here features the excellent Eric Ericson Chamber Choir–a crack ensemble, as anyone familiar with its EMI recordings will know. Soprano Lisa Delan has the right instincts for the title role as well as a sweetly innocent timbre that works fine as long as she’s not under pressure. However, as soon as she tries to up the volume, the voice begins to wobble and lose its allure. As Joan’s principal accuser, baritone Vladimir Chernov sounds aptly weighty and judgmental, and none of the accented English bothers me a bit. Alexander Vedernikov and the Russian National Orchestra give what sounds like a very committed performance of the score, and certainly Gordon Getty’s use of traditional harmony and his Romantic approach plays to the strengths of all concerned.
The second suite from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet makes for a very odd coupling, and more to the point, the piece lacks nothing in excellent performances on disc. This one doesn’t quite compete with the finest available, but it’s full of good things. The very opening, Montagues and Capulets, has the necessary weight, excellent internal balance within the string section, and a bass drum player who knows how to mark his accents without becoming vulgar. Ensemble isn’t quite as feather-light and together as it should be in Juliet, the young girl, but the more romantic moments, such as Romeo and Juliet before parting, go very well. While no one has yet matched Ancerl’s intensity in Romeo at Juliet’s grave, Vedernikov gets his players to phrase with true legato eloquence at a more conventionally swift tempo.
Sonically I much prefer to listen to this in regular stereo rather than in multi-channel format, especially in Joan and the Bells, where the chorus lacks impact and the soloists sound unnaturally forward. This is a curious disc, then, but the Prokofiev is very good, while Getty’s cantata offers compelling music in a shapely and attractive format. It’s certainly worth hearing.
Buy Now from Arkiv Music
Recording Details:Reference Recording: Prokofiev: Ancerl (Supraphon), Muti (EMI)
GORDON GETTY - Joan and the Bells (Cantata)
SERGE PROKOFIEV - Romeo & Juliet Suite No. 2