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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873–1943)
The Isle of the Dead, op.29 (1909) [20:21]
Youth” Symphony (1891) [10:18]
Symphony No.1 in D minor, op.13 (1895) [43:37]
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra/Gianandrea Noseda
rec. 30-31 January 2008, Studio 7, BBC New Broadcasting House, Manchester, DDD
CHANDOS CHAN10475 [74:39] 
Experience Classicsonline

“Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord” is the epigraph at the head of the score of the 1st Symphony, and the music is vengeful. It takes a tone of voice which obviously means serious business. With very little preceding it to give any idea of what to expect from his 1st Symphony this work, seems to have sprung fully formed from his head. It is horrifyingly barbaric and takes no prisoners; you love it or you hate it. I happen to love and admire it and so does Gianandrea Noseda. The more I hear of this man’s work the more impressed I am. He recently gave a Shostakovich 11th Symphony in the Barbican which was quite stunning. He seems to be able to really get to the core of the music he is performing. So it is here.

Noseda’s view of the 1st Symphony will come as a shock to some because of his occasional lightness and seeming nonchalance with the music. Take the start of the allegro of the first movement, it’s almost unimportant, just a little clarinet tune, but as the cellos and basses take over and the horns join in with their fanfares something starts to happen. A weight starts to appear, then the emotional floodgates are opened in the passionate statement of the second theme. The development starts in a very fast tempo, and light and shade alternate. It’s very exciting, but then he holds back as he leads into the recapitulation, all the better to build another climax. And he does! It’s a magnificently thought out performance and one which shows the music off to its very best advantage. Suffice to say that the rest of the Symphony is given the same loving care and attention. The Scherzo is occasionally lighter than most performances, but the climaxes are full-blooded and the slow movement is glowing. The finale rushes pell-mell to its tragic conclusion. In his excellent notes in the booklet, David Nice suggests that at the end “vengeance seems to be total” and the way Noseda shapes that final, shattering, climax, the vengeance probably is total, but not yet complete! 

Noseda’s handling of The Isle of the Dead is equally impressive. Again, seeming to understate the music makes his handling of the architecture of the work all the more impressive and shocking. This is a difficult piece to bring off successfully as the relentless tread of the rhythm never stops and there is little lifting of the seriousness due to the subject matter. The climaxes are big and broad, more angular than we expect from Rachmaninov, and the large orchestra is used sparingly. Noseda’s rock steady tempo, together with his perfectly judged interpretation, make this a towering and cataclysmic experience. As for the so-called Youth Symphony it is the first movement of an incomplete work and it’s an enjoyable essay in post- and sub- Tchaikovsky. 

The sound is excellent, in the best Chandos manner – but let’s be honest, when you’re using BBC Studio 7 in Manchester you can’t fail but to get good sound. The notes are very fine and the whole is attractively packaged. 

I hope that this is the first in a series of Rachmaninov recordings from this source for this disk leads one to believe that it could be a very worthwhile set of the Symphonies.

Bob Briggs


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