Rachmaninoff: Symphony No. 2
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Rachmaninoff: Symphony No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 27 (Live)
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Russian pianist, composer, and conductor Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) is regarded as one of the most important and influential composers of the twentieth century. He composed his Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Op. 27 in 1906-1907. Rachmaninoffs second symphony premiered in St. Petersburg on February 8, 1908, with the composer conducting. Originally, the work was dedicated to Sergei Taneyev, a Russian composer and teacher who studied under Tchaikovsky. The Second Symphony is one of Rachmaninoffs most popular works. The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra is conducted for this recording by Chief Conductor Mariss Jansons, who served the orchestra from 2004 until 2015. He conducted his final concert with the orchestra in the presence of Queen Maxima.
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Top Customer Reviews
The strange thing is that Hurwitz (on ClassicsToday) and Voogd (on this site) complain about Janson's omission of the recapitulation in the 1st movement on this platter, but do not do so about the St Petersburg on EMI (the timings are virtually identical) Previn's version does not include the recap, but does not get chastised for it either. Why now, I wonder?
Sound quality also gets a bashing from a reviewer here (and Hurwitz complains about audience presence). Do they have mud in their ears, I wonder? I have heard no sounds from the audience (the RCO live cds are too closely miked for that) and the sound that comes from the orchestra is awesome; just listen to the bass tuba. True, the recording is slightly less sharp edged than the St Petersburg, but it has gained in warmth, which is especially welcome in the adagio, which is performed as beautifully as many a rival version.
So as not to be accused of false nationalist pride, here are some quotes from other professionals:
"majestic and even restrained… the slow movement … sounded like a dream made audible"
Anne Midgette, Washington Post
"entirely persuasive and stirring in the end… I’ve never heard quite so much of Rachmaninoff’s writing, both
on temporal and orchestral axes." Michael Miller, New York Arts
"In the Second Symphony of Rachmaninoff all the stops were pulled out, and … it was beautiful. This music fits
Jansons like a glove." Peter van der Lint, Trouw
"Its latest RCO incarnation proved to be an ideal performance. With Mariss Jansons at the helm, heart and mind of this piece were totally balanced and the opulence of the RCO's sound at the Concertgebouw was perfectly suited to Rachmaninoff's most beloved symphony." Harmonia Mundi website
Jansons shapes its sumptuous melodies with restraint and detail, making the climaxes more than usually explosive. There’s great clarity in the playing, especially in the long slow movement with its huge clarinet solo...There’s no indulgence and plenty of excitement in this live recording from 2010.” The Guardian, 10th July 2016 ****
“The Concertgebouw strings have rarely sounded lusher, though Jansons never wallows in sentiment, and the wind soloists, notably the yearning clarinet in the adagio, are outstanding...With Tchaikovsky, this is the music in which the young Jansons made his name. He surveys it now with Olympian scope.” Sunday Times, 17th July 2016
“very beautiful, very pleasant … good recorded sound as well.” CD Review, 9th July 2016
“This is a conductor who is fully in tune with Rachmaninov bringing a performance that is unsettled, stormy and full of restrained emotion.” The Classical Reviewer, 17th July 2016
“Jansons has always been more interventionist. While his speeds have slowed a little and the Concertgebouw acoustic imparts a softer grain, much is as it always has been: the rubato personal and touching, the sudden pianissimos positively breathtaking (unless you judge them to be overdone), the textures shimmery and iridescent, flecked with woodwind colour others miss.” Gramophone Magazine, August 2016.
In my opinion this recording is neither as bad or as good as the reviewers make it out to be, but it occupies a middle ground between the very best and a number of also-rans. It cannot rival Janson's own St Petersburg version, which is sharper edged and played with more panache, or Pletnev's with the Russian National Orchestra (but where's the glockenspiel?), Previn's do-or-die recording with the LSO, Petrenko's with the Liverpudlians, or Pappano's heart-on-sleeve Italian style reading. But it is certainly better than the snail-paced version of Rozdhestvensky with the LSO, or Otaka's cavernous sounding outing with the Welsh BBC forces or Ashkenazy and the Concertgebouw's, my first ever version of Rach's 2nd, bought only a couple of days after it first appeared in the 1980's but to which I've never warmed. Beautifully played, warmly recorded, but lacking in real fire, this version is beautiful for beauty's sake and as such it may fill a need, but not one that I will be feeling very often.