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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Symphony No. 2 in E minor (1906-7) [52.50]
Scherzo [5:01]
Dances from Aleko (Women's Dance; Men's Dance) [4:14 + 4:50]
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Järvi
rec. 30 April-1 May 2006, Music Hall, Cincinnati, Ohio, DDD
TELARC CD-80670 [69.57]

With this release Telarc remind us again that they are a living label. I have come to associate them with relaunches at midprice in unchanged livery of top price issues from the 1980s and 1990s. Not so here. This disc continues a stream of Paavo Järvi Cincinnati premium price discs which includes CD-80616 (Dvorak 9; Martinů 2 - review) and CD-80585 (Sibelius 2; Tubin 5 - review).

The recording is simply sumptuous yet accommodating acres of detail. Illustrations abound - the surging little accompanimental violin figures at 9:42 in the first movement and the clarinet graces at 15:10 - minutiae that can be so easily glossed. Sheer delight in the recording quality cannot be restrained - listen to the little woodwind grunts at 5:12 in the second movement and even more so to their pleasing ambience. It's a pleasure to greet and recognise the work of engineering team Robert Woods and Michael Bishop.
The world is full of good Rachmaninov 2s. What distinguishes this from the rest? At 52.50 this must involve cuts following the practice common in the 1950s (Kletzki, Boult?) until Previn broke the mould in 1972 with an uncut version. Järvi is brisk anyway, favouring an urgency of pulse and driving a coach and horses through the languid Sanderling (67:21) Previn and Rozhdestevnsky (66:00) camps not to mention the recent Svetlanov on French Warner (64:00). Järvi is in the Jose Cura corner. Cura's excellent version is racy and rapid (Avie AV0022 - see review) (58.14). Golovanov is as usual sui generis - on Boheme if you can find it. He gives an eccentric performance which constantly calls down primeval fire from the skies; certainly worth experiencing if you can bear the 1940s Soviet mono sound. Janssons with the St Petersburg sounds more natural but lacks eruptive tension.
An expansive version not to be forgotten is Kurt Sanderling's from 1989 recorded in St Barnabas Church, Mitcham, Surrey now on Warner Classics Apex 0927 49044 2 at bargain price (see review). This plays for 67.21. Sanderling coaxes and caresses every note and relishes each bar. His orchestra sounds voluptuously ample and the strings sing and seethe remarkably well. He reminded me of Ormandy in the fabulous Philadelphian years. Despite the long playing time Sanderling weighs and shapes the phrases and momentum with experienced judgement. Things go less well in his arthritic finale which ought to have a galvanic and euphoric rush - something which Järvi and Rozhdestvensky delivers uproariously. When Järvi unleashes this archetypically festal movement he stands in line with similar exuberant splendours in the finales of Glazunov 5, 6 and 8. Despite his impeccable Russian credentials Downes and the BBCPO did not hold my attention but another British conductor, Vernon Handley on long-deleted Tring, should also be heard - outstanding.
Järvi here delivers a superb version for those who are impatient of a luxurious swooning pace - the very thing Vernon Handley warns against in Bax exegesis. You can bracket this Järvi close to Cura who is also accorded a superb recording but Järvi is yet faster. This is a Rachmaninov symphony for our impatient times yet is not so brutal as to short-change the essence of this fine symphony. Perhaps a few moments in the finale where the full-steam-ahead scouted over the emotional cargo but otherwise fully recommendable if you like your Rachmaninov pushed forward.
The fillers include a flittery-fluttery Mendelssohnian scherzo with the odd Rimskian cross-current. We recalls the composer's piano transcription of Mendelssohn's scherzo from Midsummer Night's Dream. Aleko is one of Rachmaninov's three shortish operas - ignoring the incomplete Monna Vanna - extracts from which were recorded by Chandos. The Women's Dance is middlingly vigorous but the central section is more personal and romantic. The Men's Dance crashes with Mussorgskian energy and with gloomy Russian nationalistic material redolent of Glazunov's Stenka Razin.
The helpful notes are by composer and writer Kyle Gann.
Pushed to a first recommendation in a field heaving with alternatives of every type - what a contrast with the 1970s and 1980s - I would still go for Rozhdestvensky on Regis (see review). That said there is a great deal to please and exhilarate in this new version from Telarc.
Rob Barnett




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