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CD Review

Sergei Rachmaninoff

Symphony #2 in E minor, Op. 27

Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Owain Arwel Hughes
BIS CD-1279 67m DDD
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I have been extremely fond of this symphony ever since being bowled over by it over eleven years ago when I purchased a Pickwick tape featuring the complete uncut version with the London Symphony under Rozdestvensky, a classic of its time. How does Arwel Hughes compare with such established greats as Previn, Ormandy and Ashkenazy in this romantic washout? Admirably well, I should say and this is indeed a recording to which I shall be returning to very often.

The hugely expansive first movement which always threatens to put the whole work off balance, is judiciously handled here, this is a giant, sycophantically charged canvas of almost vast steppe-like proportions (taking a cue from earlier descriptions of this magnificent work). It is as long as another two movements in one but it never outstays its welcome under Hughes who knows how to milk the beautiful moments aided by an RSNO on top form. The vivacious and almost biting scherzo is quite brilliantly played with its pensive central section offering a quaint moment of respite from the ferocious energy permeated by Hughes and his Scottish players. The Adagio is one of the most beautiful movements ever composed in Western symphonic literature and Hughes probes the deepest reaches of sentimentality to garner the most out of this absolutely wonderful music. Finally we have that magnificent Finale, a coming together of all the themes from previous movements culminating in an unabashed shower of perennial symphonic beauty like a lush, gorgeous fountain of effusive romanticism.

Arwel Hughes plays the music for what it is worth and I was moved to tears when that great coda came out of my modest speakers! The BIS recording is outstanding on all counts and I would hastily recommend this beautifully played version amongst the pantheon of great recordings.

Copyright © 2002, Gerald Fenech