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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Symphonic Dances (1940) [35:04]
Prince Rostislav (1891) [17:15]
Capriccio on Russian Themes (1894) [17:06]
USSR SO/Evgeny Svetlanov
rec. live, Grand Hall, Moscow Conservatoire, 3 Feb 1986 (Symphonic Dances; 1973 (Rostislav, Capriccio). ADD
REGIS RRC 1178 [69:34]

Regis are a label to watch. Their ex-USSR line bears a mix of familiar and exotic fruit. Central to the present disc is a live Symphonic Dances from Moscow. It is gorgeously ... even opulently intense. For some it may be ruled out by the sprinkling of coughing and chair squeaking. If you are allergic to such things pass by on the other side and go for one of the studio recordings such as Temirkanov's RCA-BMG or Jansons on EMI. For Temirkanov's very recent (August 2004) Proms performance of the Dances with the St Petersburg Phil the orchestra played as if possessed. This falls into almost the same category except that the furious speed of the final dance troubles even me. There is vehemence and then there is Svetlanov in the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatoire on 3 February 1986. There is also the pitiful decision to damp the final tam-tam impact when it should resonate like some warning from a yawning grave. The playing and the reading are typically Russian and it is good to hear Svetlanov in concert taking such chances. The real sleeper in the Melodiya archive is the Kondrashin version from 1963. Svetlanov reminds us of that in the first two dances. What this amounts to is a concert event in which the adrenaline gallops in fury. The experience is stimulating but in the final analysis is too eccentric to rank as a library choice. If you are a Rach-head you will have to add this to your personal hall of fame.

This Rostislav dates from Svetlanov's Moscow concerts to celebrate the Rachmaninov centenary in 1973. It is an early work dedicated to Arensky. It had to wait until 1945 for its premiere. Here it is played within an inch of its life (try 10.03). The style is somewhere between Balakirev's Tamar and Tchaikovsky's Hamlet. There are even atmospheric resonances with the Erben-inspired tone poems of Dvořák's last years. The Capriccio is a mate to Tchaikovsky's Italien and Rimsky's Espagnol. It even sounds like Tchaikovsky at one moment (8.20) and Rimsky the next (13.30).

No half measures from Svetlanov in Rachmaninov's last concert work but in the finale it is as if the vengeful genie has been let out of the bottle - exhilarating but over the top. Svetlanov gives the two early works the best possible helping hand. These tapes which no one could say lack character are evenly matched with a good note from James Murray.

Rob Barnett

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