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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1875 - 1945)
Symphony No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 27 (1908) [53:12]
The Isle of the Dead, Op. 90 (1909) [20:52]
LíOrchestre de la Suisse Romande/Paul Kletzki (Symphony)
Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam/Vladimir Ashkenazy (Isle of the Dead).
rec. Victoria Hall, Geneva, Switzerland, August 1967; Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, January 1983. ADD/DDD
DECCA ELOQUENCE 470 6752 [74:10]

More unmissable goodies from Down Under. August has been Rachmaninov month with six issues from the Eloquence label. I have no doubt that this late harvest will have dyed in the wool collectors like myself dancing in the street - not a particularly pretty sight, so maybe I will curtail the dancing to my lounge. The three symphonies plus orchestral and concertante works usually in performances completely new to CD from the Decca stable are more than welcome; in fact they are unmissable.

The astonishing feature of these releases is the playing of the orchestra in two of the symphonies. When in 1969, Ernest Ansermet died, the Suisse Romande Orchestra, always a highly proficient band, nevertheless a little conservative, was taken over by Paul Kletzki. This maverick conductor had done some very good work for EMI in Russian repertoire, in the 1960s and 1970s but had never been in the absolute top flight of orchestral conductors. He was appointed chief conductor of the Suisse Romande, and based upon the aural evidence of these discs inspired this band to perform on a totally different level to what they had been able to achieve before. It is not down to the technical dimension either as the same company, Decca, was in attendance in the same location, with the same producer and recording engineers. The quality of the playing is incandescent, given its source and I urge you to try these discs - Symphonies 2 and 3 in particular.

The passion which Kletzki whips up, particularly in the slow movement would, I am sure, have delighted Rachmaninov himself, had he been lucky enough to hear these recordings. The passionate playing is quite out of character if you have been weaned on the numerous Ansermet recordings from the same stable. I am not sure whether they would have performed Ravel and Debussy better under Kletzki (I doubt it) but I have never heard the Russian repertoire sound so right with this orchestra.

In fact, Ashkenazy and the Concertgebouw with glorious tone supported by their own venue and in performances well known and loved for their exhilarating response to the composer are hard pressed to surpass their Swiss colleagues. When I first opened the package containing these discs, I thought "they will probably be good, but the Ashkenazy performance will no doubt surpass the Swiss performances." Having now heard these I am not at all sure.

The sleeve-notes contain what is surely an Aussie joke, which I found very amusing. It describes the "Isle of the Dead" as "I Love the Dead"; I had not come across that one before. So this release couples the Second Symphony with "The Isle of the Dead" in wonderfully ardent performances, in superb sound quality. It brings to CD for the first time, this performance of Rachmaninovís most popular symphony.

Frankly I cannot understand why this recording has lain gathering dust in the archives. Performances such as these should be treasured. I urge you all to give this disc a try. You will not be disappointed.

John Phillips



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