Apparently Rachmaninov became one of Previn’s conducting specialties in his time with the LSO, and a BBC telecast of a 1973 proms telecast preserved a performance of the composer’s rarely performed The Bells, a work for orchestra, soloists and chorus based on an Edgar Allen Poe poem.
Available again on DVD from ICA Classics, this performance may look dated, with its slightly faded color and the wide lapels and long hair on so many of the male musicians. The sound is sharp and clear, however, and Previn leads a dynamic, detailed reading. His fine soloists, obviously comfortable with the English libretto, are Sheila Armstrong, Robert Tear and John Shirley-Quirk. Anyone with a bias against British singers who might have what is called a “plumy” tone, emphasized by fussy enunciation, will be pleased by these singers commitment to the work and concentrated vocal production. Rachmaninov’s melodic invention did not transfer over very well into the works for voice he wrote, but The Bells has passages of great beauty. Think of this as a fine opportunity to enjoy a relative rarity, even though there may be no particular reason to re-watch the actual concert performance more than once. Unless one has an inexplicable nostalgia for shaggy locks and wide lapels on men…
ICA offers two other pieces from separate BBC filmed concerts, a colorful jaunt through Prokofiev’s Lieutenat KijÈ suite and a rip-roaring race through Bernstein’s Candide overture. Previn projects confidence and elegance from the podium, although with his pageboy haircut and oversized glasses he looks a bit like Edith Head in tuxedo drag.
Other than the usual credits and a nice essay by the aptly named David Nice, the booklet basically serves as advertisement for other ICA concert performances on DVD. No bonus features.
product_title=Sergei Rachmaninoff: The Bells; Sergei Prokofiev: Lieutenant KijÈ; Leonard Bernstein: Candide — Overture
product_by=Sheila Armstrong, soprano; Robert Tear, tenor; John Shirley-Quirk, bass-baritone. London Symphony Chorus & Orchestra. Conductor: AndrÈ Previn.
product_id=ICA ICAD 5038 [DVD]