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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873 -1943)
Complete Symphonies and Other Works

CD 1 [69:14]
Caprice Bohémien, op.12 (1892/1894) [19:31]
Symphony No.1 in D minor, op.13 (1895) [49:34]
CD 2 [58:06]
Symphony No.2 in E minor, op.27 (1906/1907) [58:06]
CD 3 [51:38]
Symphony No.3 in A minor, op.44 (1935/1936) [41:32]
Mélodie in E, op.3/3 (1892) [5:32]
Polichinelle, op.3/4 (1892) [4:31]
National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland/Alexander Anissimov
rec. 6-7 May 1996 (opp.12, 13); 24-25 March 1997 (op.27); 22-23 April 1996 (opp. 3, 44); National Concert Hall, Dublin. DDD
re-packaging of Naxos 8.550806, 8.554230, 8.550808
NAXOS 8.503191 [3 CDs: 69:14 + 58:06 + 51:38]

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.

Caprice Bohémien 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 after that.

The 1st 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.

The 3rd 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.

Bob Briggs


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