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CD Review

Sergei Rachmaninoff

  • Symphony #2 in E minor, Op. 27
  • Vocalise, Op. 34 #14
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra/Jesús López-Cobos
Telarc CD-80543 DDD 65:47
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This is the second of three Telarc recordings of the composer's Symphony #2 that I'm aware of. There was Previn's, which by all accounts is inferior to his excellent EMI/Warner version. There's this one, and then there's Paavo Järvi's with this same orchestra. I really like this disc, even though I didn't think I would. I wanted to review Järvi's, and when this one arrived in the mail I was a touch apprehensive. I had read that this sounded gorgeous but was simply too droopy to be a contender.

Admittedly, I hear a little bit of the latter issue but thankfully there's a ton of the former. The disc is absolutely beautiful played at high levels, and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra sounds spectacular throughout. Jesús López-Cobos never did get as much attention as his successor Paavo Järvi, but he remains a very fine artist with a surprisingly large range of repertoire. Never the most exciting conductor on the planet, he's at least fully comfortable in the Russian idiom, and conducts Rachmaninoff beautifully. It's not especially exciting, and I suppose that's a legitimate complaint if you don't want this music to simply sound like a romance movie. But let's face it, that's just as much the composer's fault. Occasionally, López-Cobos does seem to wallow in the melodies for a bit too long, but the string playing is so rich and full that you may not care. Besides, at least they aren't overpowering in the Karajan or Ormandy tradition. The brass are also good; the conductor gave us some outstanding Mahler and Bruckner that absolutely nobody talks about, and so that's to be expected. All in all, this is a very good performance, and I doubt many will really have much to complain about.

As for the Vocalise, it's easily the least imaginative Rachmaninoff coupling ever, and always feels like an afterthought. Naturally, it sounds beautiful here – when does it not? – with the Cincinnati strings stealing the show. You won't buy the disc for the coupling, though. What you get is an above average recording of an ever-popular symphony, perhaps more than that depending on your tastes. As previously noted, the sound is amazingly fine. This is a worthwhile purchase if you're looking for Rachmaninoff that sounds great.

Copyright © 2015, Brian Wigman

Trumpet