Getty Joan and the Bells
The Russian National Orchestra gave the world première of Joan and the Bells in September 1998 and now present it for the first time on CD along with the Stockholm-based Eric Ericson Chamber Choir. Alexander Vedernikov keeps things under rather too tight a rein, encouraging impressively clean playing from the RNO and immaculate precision (particularly of diction) from the choir, but stifling any real sense of drama: it seems strange that those who witness Joan’s fiery demise show such little emotion. As for the eponymous heroine herself, for all the purity and innocence of her voice, Lisa Delan comes across as a slightly too American Joan of Arc to be wholly convincing, but one can certainly sense the vitriol in Vladimir Chernov’s appropriately magisterial Cauchon. A powerful work given a refreshingly unpretentious performance.
The coupling of a dramatic cantata on a Christian theme by a contemporary American with a Shakespearean ballet composed over 60 years earlier by a Russian may not seem immediately obvious. The booklet notes seem to imply that both are connected by the theme of death. But there is no need to draw any link especially since, with the need for something to sit alongside Getty’s 21-minute work, why not experience Vedernikov’s gloriously gutsy reading of Prokofiev’s famous score? The RNO strings may not be on absolutely top form but there is more than ample compensation for this in ravishing brass and wind playing, not least the sensuous saxophone in an unusually voluptuous portrait of ‘The Young Juliet’.