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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Official Collection Vol. 9

Symphony No. 2 in E minor (1906-7) [64:11]
The Rock Op. 7 (1893) [14:03]
State Symphony Orchestra of the Russian Federation/Evgeny Svetlanov
rec. Grand Radio Hall, Moscow, 2-7 October 1995.
WARNER MUSIC FRANCE 5101 12235-2 [78:30]

Warner Music France issued a three CD set devoted to the symphonic cycle recorded by Svetlanov in Moscow 1995, adding other works into the bargain – Caprice Bohémien, Scherzo in D minor, Isle of the Dead and The Rock. The number of that three CD set is 5101 12238-2. The Second appears here in independent guise coupled with The Rock.
Svetlanov left behind multiple recordings of the Symphonies and those who are familiar with them will know that they varied significantly over the years. This was especially the case in respect of the Second, in which textual matters prove problematic. Svetlanov’s 1964 recording of the Symphony was grievously cut and ran to only fifty-four minutes. This 1995 performance is a good ten minutes slower and reflects Svetlanov’s last thoughts on cuts in the slow movement and finale.
As one might expect he establishes a powerful sense of melancholy from the outset, allowing room for his distinguished wind principals to phrase. These players are some of the most characterful instrumentalists around in this repertoire and Svetlanov was always fortunate in having such players in his orchestra. He cultivates a natural sense of momentum; rubati are never excessive and when the music becomes convulsive its turbulence emerges from the fabric of the music making without unnecessary stridency. It’s true that Svetlanov still cultivated old school Russian brass blare but here it works; climaxes are dynamic and shaped with inexorable power; the music is baleful, predatory, portentous but never uncontrolled.
Lithe, well aerated and full of decisive direction the scherzo is another winner with some especially joyous phrasing in the meno mosso section, which is gorgeously weighted and balanced. Svetlanov proves a warm, and highly effective exponent of the slow movement. It’s richly phrased but never congeals; there’s no bogus sentiment, the lower strings are richly burnished and ensemble is commendably tight. The performance sounds so much longer breathed than the cut 1964 performance, and so much more convincing. The lower brass come into their own in the finale, abetted by the percussion; buoyancy is maintained to the end, themes etched with precision and care and the corporate sonority of the orchestra is powerfully vivid in this recording.
So a most impressive and persuasive account of the Second Symphony – liquid, strong, yielding, affecting, avoiding bombast and piety but nevertheless full of emotive candour. It’s coupled with The Rock, an early and not yet quite characteristic work written in 1893 when the composer was twenty. However incidents and paragraphs are mapped with the same kind of care as we heard in the Symphony. The strings are unleashed at various points, and the oppressive, turbulent brass cast a powerful spell in a performance that impresses at each succeeding hearing.
Vivid and full of candour these are echt-Svetlanov readings. They’re performances of clear-eyed architecture and communicative drama.

Jonathan Woolf


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