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CD Review

Sergei Rachmaninoff

  • Symphony #2
  • The Rock
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra/Gianandrea Noseda
Chandos CHAN10589
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This is an excellent Rachmaninov Second Symphony, certainly among the better versions of this emotionally-charged, Mahler-sized masterwork. My first encounter with the Rachmaninov Second Symphony came in the early-1960s with the Paul Paray/Detroit Symphony Orchestra recording on Mercury Records, issued in 1957. I well remember that the work sounded strange and eerie to me, but I was a teenager just learning some of the standard repertory works. Not that the Rachmaninov Second was in the standard repertory then – it clearly wasn't. It would take a couple of decades and a popular song based on the third movement theme before it would gain wide popularity.

Later versions of the work by Svetlanov, Slatkin and others kindled my admiration for the symphony. I came to regard it much like the Third Concerto: both are flawed masterpieces, plagued by cuts in their early versions. In the case of the symphony, one can fairly observe that it is overlong – even Rachmaninov suggested as much by making those cuts which are now no longer observed by conductors. Moreover, one gets the feeling – at least I do – that the symphony goes over the top emotionally, with soaring, swooning themes all over the place and with an ending that reeks of bombast. Still, it's worth more than an occasional listen, and Rachmaninov mavens will rank it among the composer's greatest works.

This reading by Noseda catches the heart of Rachmaninov, with beautiful pacing and a sense that those lush themes will find the ecstasy they so desperately seek. And if any recording reaches Rachmaninovian ecstasy, it's this one: just try the voluptuous and passionate renderings of the big alternate themes in the first and last movements here. The BBC Philharmonic plays beautifully and Noseda achieves seemingly perfect balances from his spirited players. The Rock is delivered with a mixture of darkness and fantasy, a perfectly appropriate treatment for this early, rather subdued Rachmaninov piece. It makes a nice bonus, not only because of the contrast that results from its general restraint, but because it fills out this CD to 74:56. The sound in both works is vivid and the notes informative. Highly recommended.

Copyright © 2010, Robert Cummings.