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Customer Review

4 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too much gloom, February 16, 2006
This review is from: Rachmaninov: Symphonic Dances / The Isle of the Dead, Opp. 29,45 (Audio CD)
I figured this CD is cheap enough that I could buy it for the Dances alone, which I'd heard before and wanted for my collection. The reviews seemed to indicate this is the best CD of this music.

I'm glad I had no expectations from The Isle of the Dead, which is at best an outstanding expression of morbid dreariness, gloomy and chill throughout, and amply lengthy for its point to sink in. But unfortunately, the commonalities between the Isle and the Dances are emphasized, not just in the CD booklet but in the way Ashkenazy conducts the Dances. Somewhere, you can buy an account of the Dances with more propulsion and less focus on the grave. Buy it instead, unless you are seeking a therapeutic cure for euphoria, in which case this disk gets my highest recommendation. It is well recorded.
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Initial post: Jun 6, 2010 1:07:26 AM PDT
I couldn't disagree more strongly on "Isle of the Dead"--at least with such an offhand dismissal. It is a hypnotic, evocative, otherworldly work that does what it intends to do admirably. It's one of those rare pieces that is both approachable and stands up to repeated listening. It takes you into another world, but one which is not Chabrier's "Espana."

Now for Ashkenazy, he's often at his best with works that require both technical excellence and a finely honed balance between bringing out both the beauty and the darkness that, as part of the human condition, makes that beauty all the more affecting. Listen to his piano recording of Ravel's "Gaspard de la Nuit" especially, "Le Gibet." For a good contrast in his conducting style, trying comparing his set of Sibelius Symphonies with the very fine, much brighter set, conducted by Colin Davis. Ashkenazy has long been one of our most reliable, thoughtful, interpreters of great music.

And brilliant Rachmaninov: Stravinsky's, "six feet two inches of Russian gloom," do we dismiss him because he can put the "Dies Irae" theme into even "Variations on a Theme by Paganini"? though sometimes sprightly or martial, we find him more often achingly beautiful framed with a poetic melancholy.

A cure for euphoria? Euphoria has its place, and its repertoire--but so does dreaming.
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