Can Regis pick 'em!
This is a succulent and sumptuously
upholstered Rachmaninov 2. Rozhdestvensky
teamed with the most consistently inspirational
of the London's orchestras is a recipe
for something special. So it proves!
Rozhdestvensky is one
of that small enclave who can be relied
on to ignite the kindling of this symphony
and turn it into a blazing and roaring
sunset. Listen for example to the Rimskian
cauldron at 18:28 in the first movement.
Trygg Tryggvason was
the recording engineer who conspired
in this reading and met fire with fire.
Although there are stunning climaxes
the microphone array also picks up the
woodwind blandishments and seductions
woven into this most romantic of scores.
Quite properly Andrew
Marriner's clarinet is listed separately
although it is a pity that the Leader
is not listed. Can anyone tell me who
The Allegro molto
is turned into a heavily accented
'chatter' at first and again at 3.44.
The sighing streaming grand romantic
theme at 1.50 is allowed to stretch
and yawn, to float and fly. Just at
the start of the movement, at 1:19,
the gracious clarinet preface strikes
what now sounds as a foreshadowing of
the Symphonic Dances.
The Adagio can
easily degenerate into slush. Rozhdestvensky
keeps this version almost disappointingly
matter-of-fact at first, the better
to unleash the full lyrical force of
the movement at 6:59. There the firmament
lights up in the aural equivalent of
a starry sky, a gravely soaring Klimt-like
The brilliance of the
Allegro vivace at first catches
out the LSO violins with a hint of scrappiness
in their full tilt tumult. Soon everyone
settles down into a pulsating and sumptuous
reading in which the massed violins
sing in glimmering splendour. The weighty
sounds generated by the brass desks
provide not only underpinning but also
centre-stage command. There's no suggestion
here of adipose tendencies or a clumsy
lumber. Not for the first time does
Rozhdestvensky remind us of the indebtedness
to Tchaikovsky with little echoes of
the march from the Pathétique.
How does it compare
with so many other performances in and
out of the catalogue? In recent years
I have been greatly impressed with Jose
Cura's racy and rapid version on Avie
AV0022 but my it's quick at 58.14
... even allowing for cuts [review].
It stands very much at the other pole
from Rozhdestvensky. Rozhdestvensky
combines the best of the classic Previn
version on EMI but without the gelatin
filter halo and soft-focus romantic
aura. Golovanov is on Boheme if you
can find it. He gives an eccentric performance
which calls down the fire from Heaven;
certainly worth experiencing if you
can bear the 1940s Soviet mono sound.
Janssons with the St Petersburg sounds
more natural but lacks the impetuosity
of Cura and the flammable spontaneity
of Rozhdestvensky. Svetlanov's battered
and cut 1960s recording is still glorious
and is closer to Cura and Golovanov
than to Previn.
Another 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 [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.
Despite the long playing time Sanderling
weighs and shapes the phrases and momentum
with experienced judgement. Things go
less well for him in his arthritic finale
which ought to have a galvanic and euphoric
rush. Despite his impeccable Russian
credentials Downes and the BBCPO did
not grip my attention but another British
conductor, Vernon Handley on Tring (long
deleted), is outstanding.
Regis complete this
top contender with excellent notes by
James Murray. I am so pleased that he
takes time to mention Rozhdestvensky's
father, the conductor Nikolai Anosov
(1900-1962). The cover image uses Savrasov's
painting 'The Early Spring'.
Rozhdestvensky on this
Regis release sings the socks off most
versions and stands out from the crowd.
You may have heard a hundred or more
versions over the years. I guarantee
this will rekindle that first fresh
shimmer of discovery, that tremor of
the heart, that spine-tingling indicator
that tells you what it was to live the
creation and recreation of this music.