Edgar Allan Poe is one of those poets who don't easily translate successfully into any other language, much less into Russian, but his poem "The Bells," in an adaptation by Konstantin Balmont rather than an actual translation, was the inspiration for Rachmaninoff's colorful choral symphony of the same name. Rarely heard in this country, it was performed with dramatic enthusiasm by the Choral Arts Society and a fine trio of soloists yesterday at the Kennedy Center.
Each of the four movements paints a scene characterized, in turn, by sleigh bells, wedding bells, alarm bells and funeral bells. The chorus reacts emotionally, while the soloists are more personal in their involvement. Soprano Linda Zoghby and tenor Gene Tucker projected the intensity and the ardor of their roles, but only bass Donnie Ray Albert sang with the vocal quality that Russian music implies. The chorus was particularly effective in the crashing climaxes of the third movement.
The concert began with a performance of the Mozart Grand Mass in C Minor, a piece in which Mozart pays homage to the spirits of both the baroque and the classical muses. Conductor Norman Scribner seemed more partial to the baroque elements in this reading. The chorus declaimed its fugal assignments with great clarity and particularly beautiful unisons, and the soloists, joined by soprano Ruth Golden, sang with accuracy but with little sense of the elegance that was the hallmark of the late 18th century.