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CD Review

Sergei Rachmaninoff

  • Symphony #2, in E minor, Op. 27
  • Vocalise, Op. 34 #14 *
* Valer Sabadus, counter-tenor
Gürzenich-Orchester Köln/Dmitri Kitajenko
Oehms OC441 64:55
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If a poll were conducted to determine what listeners and musicians consider the most Romantic symphony ever written, the Rachmaninov Second would surely be at or very near the top. The work features several themes mainly on strings that seem to soar to the heavens, themes that are not only Romantic in style but romantic in emotion. Dmitri Kitajenko plays up the lush character of the symphony, imbuing the work with a sonic richness, melodies sounding full-blooded and passionate, and harmonies warm and tender. Tempos tend to be in the moderate to slow range, but Kitajenko always manages to impart a thriving sense to the music, whether it is seething with passion or wallowing in sorrow or driven in ecstasy. The first movement development section brims with tension and atmosphere and for once doesn't come across as overlong or excessive. The Scherzo's main theme is crisply played by the orchestra while the lovely alternate theme is filled with passion and beauty. The third movement is beautifully phrased throughout and the finale is utterly joyous and triumphant.

In every movement Kitajenko (also commonly spelled "Kitayenko") draws vital and committed playing from the excellent Gurzenich-Orchester and Oehms provides them with extremely detailed and powerful sound reproduction. No other version of the Second comes to mind that surpasses this one, including an excellent recent one by Noseda on Chandos, which I reviewed here in 2010 (Chandos CHAN10589). Kitajenko adds unusual filler here: yes, it's the ever-popular Vocalise but sung by a countertenor, Valer Sabadus. He does right well and Kitajenko gives him fine support. It's only about a four-minute piece, but a choice nugget to fill out this excellent disc.

This is the second volume in the conductor's survey of the three Rachmaninov symphonies. I reviewed his Rachmaninov First Symphony earlier this year (Oehms OC440) and found the performance vying with the Slatkin effort on Naxos as a first choice. We can only await the Third now, and my expectations are very high. After the success of his Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky symphony cycles, Dmitri Kitajenko must be regarded as among the most underrated conductors in the world.

Copyright © 2015, Robert Cummings