Only a few weeks ago I had the great
pleasure of welcoming the re-issue of
Mariss Jansons and the St Petersburg
Philharmonic’s recordings of the Rachmaninov
Symphonies [EMI 5 00885 review].
Now, Naxos re-packages its three separate
disks of the works in a box.
In some respects, musically,
there is little to choose between the
Jansons and Anissimov sets. Each is
played superbly, and the interpretations
are without fuss or embellishment. Anissimov
chooses, what we might call, more traditional
tempi than Jansons – certainly his are
the ones we are used to hearing. His
use of rubato is more tempered, and,
in general, he is slightly slower, but
this never impairs the flow of the music
and the unfolding of the musical argument.
starts the first disk. It’s a harmless
work, and that’s about all one can say
about it. The opening section is fun
but the composer gets bogged down with
his material in the ensuing slow section
and the work never really comes alive
Symphony is a different matter.
Here, although Anissimov shows some
slight restraint, he is always alive
to the light and shade in the work –
something not normally shown in this
youthful "indiscretion", as
some would have it. The scherzo sounds
like ballet music here, I’d never thought
of that before when listening to this
movement, and it works! The difficult
finale is never allowed to get out of
hand, and especially pleasing is his
handling of the slow, tragic, coda.
After a fine gong crash, Anissimov slackens
the tension then builds up the pressure
as the music grows louder and more desperate
– an element I am beginning to feel
more and more in these works.
I chronicled the history
of Rachmaninov’s symphonic works in
my earlier review so I will not repeat
myself here, except to mention that
the 2nd Symphony was
always performed in a heftily cut version
until André Previn and the LSO
recorded the complete work in 1973 (EMI
CLASSICS 0077776453026 review).
Anissimov’s performance of the first
three movements of the 2nd
Symphony is wholly satisfying. Passion,
fire, tension and release are there
in abundance and what a performance
it is. However, for no reason whatsoever,
the finale has two cuts in it - one
of approximately 30 seconds and a larger,
more damaging one, of 90 seconds - which
makes nonsense of the music. Why cut
such perfectly proportioned music? It
would be like cutting all the jokes
out of the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup,
so perfectly proportioned is that film.
Symphony also receives a magnificent
performance, and, as in 1st Symphony,
Anissimov has a firm hold on the ebb
and flow of the music. The orchestra
responds to his every demand. Unfortunately,
it is followed by two trifles from Rachmaninov’s
earliest compositional years in over-blown
orchestrations. I repeat myself here,
but I must say that even though these
miniatures are "fillers",
they have no place to follow such a
work as the 3rd Symphony.
High praise must go
to both conductor and orchestra for
magnificent performances of the symphonies
– special mention must be made of the
brass section, which is unbridled in
its enthusiasm! However the set cannot
be recommended because of the butchering
of the finale of the 2nd.
However, by all means have the separate
disks of the 1st (Naxos
8.550806) and 3rd Symphonies
(Naxos 8.550808) in your collection.
You will not be disappointed.
The sound is clear,
crisp and bright in Naxos’s best manner.