Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873 - 1943)
Symphonic Fantasy: The Rock, op.7 (1893) [14:18]
Symphony No.2 in E minor, op.27 (1906/1907) [60:19]
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra/Gianandrea Noseda
rec. 24 November 2008 (The Rock); 11-12 November 2009 (Symphony), Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester, DDD
CHANDOS CHAN 10589 [74:52]
Arnold Bax might have called himself a brazen romantic, but he never created a work quite as brazenly romantic as Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony - a work for which the word ‘brazen’ might have been invented. Certainly here is a piece which seethes with emotion in every bar, is designed to tug at the heartstrings, and give a general feeling of satisfaction by the end.
All Rachmaninov does in this Symphony is write his own music and that’s enough to captivate us. Korngold has exactly the same effect. I am always happy when a new recording of this work appears for in our contemporary world of calamities and disasters it’s good to have something one can rely on to keep one sane. This new version of the work has, perhaps, the best recorded sound I have ever heard. This disk has allowed me to hear touches of orchestration which have passed me by in other recordings, and some even in the concert hall, and the sound is clear and bright, very alive and full-bodied. However, even with stunning orchestral playing from the BBC Philharmonic, the interpretation doesn’t complement the sound.
Noseda is a fine conductor, we’ve heard his performances often on the radio and in the concert hall, and he has impressed me with his clear thinking and ability to carry the musical argument even in the biggest pieces - I remember a performance of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony at last year’s Proms where, although his tempi were questionable, he understood how the music worked and where it was going. He shows the same musical intelligence in this performance but I cannot help feeling that he isn’t really in sympathy with the music.
Without a strong hand at the helm, Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony can lose its way - and make one understand why it was performed for so many years in a version which was brutally cut - and that is what happens here. No movement has one set tempo, the pace fluctuates as the various sections reveal themselves and on several occasions Noseda’s decision to simply, and abruptly, change tempo, instead of creating a relaxation - it was almost always from faster to slower music where this happened - jolted the flow. Noseda is at his best in the second half of the slow movement where Rachmaninov spends some time reflecting on what has gone before - the climax coming early in this movement - and Noseda enjoys its romantic warmth. Elsewhere, I found a lack of tension and real fire, the three fast movements being fast, but failing to grab one by the shoulders and give one a good emotional kicking. By the end I want to be gasping for having been put through the wringer not just pleasantly entertained.
The early Symphonic Fantasy: The Rock is a very generous filler - well done Chandos for sensibly placing it first for you don’t want anything to follow this Symphony - and Noseda is more at home here, for the music causes no problems. It can simply be played without worries for it is a simple piece and it’s here played as such.
For the Symphony my recommendation remains with the fabulous three CD set of Rachmaninov’s orchestral works by Mariss Jansons and the St Petersburg Philharmonic (EMI 500885) and although The Rock isn’t in this set, a magnificent Isle of the Dead is.
Bob Briggs 

see also review by Raymond Walker