Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Symphony No.1 in D minor, Op.13 (1895) [44:22]
Isle of the Dead (symphonic poem) Op. 29 (1907) [22:44]
Moscow State Symphony Orchestra/Pavel Kogan
rec. Moscow Film Synchro Studios, October 1990, DDD
ALTO ALC 1032 [67:16]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Symphony No.2 in E minor, Op.27 (1907) [54:33]
Vocalise (1915 orch. 1929) [8:17]
Scherzo in D minor (1887) [5:06]
Moscow State Symphony Orchestra/Pavel Kogan
rec. Moscow Film Synchro Studios, October 1990, DDD
ALTO ALC 1031 [68:05]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Symphony No. 3 in A minor Op.44 (1936) [41:52]
Symphonic Dances Op.45 (1940) [36:12]
Moscow State Symphony Orchestra/Pavel Kogan
rec. October 1990, Moscow Film Synchro Studios. DDD
ALTO ALC 1030 [77:12]
These 1990 Moscow recordings make their debut on these separately available Alto CDs. It is hard to believe that such a red-blooded approach had never before been issued on CD. Recorded digitally getting on for two decades ago these versions were made by one of the great technical teams - Marc Aubort and Joanna Nickrenz using second generation JVC mobile digital recorders. Their credentials are immaculate. Both recordings and performances are red in tooth and claw. If anything the effect of sound and reading might have some listeners reaching for the aural equivalent of sunglasses. If you have had your fill of suave and homogenised sound - and there are many Rachmaninov versions that fit this bill - then this old-style Russian approach will please ... and much more. The great fortissimo climaxes will not short-change the listener who will find the blood running hot and fast and close to the surface of the skin. The effect is perhaps garish to some ears, this Technicolor and then some. You will rapidly gather this impression in the finale of the First Symphony. There is no suspicion that the result were sleepwalked or routinely sight-read. These feel like real-life events. The blood-line stretches back to Golovanov and then forward to Kondrashin and Svetlanov. Pavel Kogan, the son of violinist Leonid Kogan and pianist Elisaveta Gilels is part of that fervour-soaked Soviet aristocracy. Born in 1952 Kogan won the Sibelius International Violin Competition in 1970.
These are gutsy performances recorded in sound seething with virile detail and heaving with impact. Although knocking on for twenty years old these recordings compete confidently in a crowded market. Where they score especially is in economy, in bright and gripping sound with plenty of bass impact and with a certain fervour or even abandon.
The Third Symphony, a personal favourite, is bright and eager. The brilliance is aided by the resonant studio acoustic which adds a benevolent long decay to the final bars of the Symphony which Kogan emphasises with an impulsive and highly effective broadening of the tempo. The finale is taken as fast as I have heard it which certainly brings out the impulsive side of the work and banishes any suggestion of sloth. It also sacrifices some rhythmic detailing even with an orchestra as adept as the Moscow State. 
The Symphonic Dances are also driven yet benefit from alert playing. The recording does not short-change the saxophone part. The last movement captures a real snarl from the brass and the blood-rush familiar from the finale of the Kogan reading of the Third Symphony is also in full evidence here. Much of the time this finale is given a hell-for-leather Golovanov-style rip - though I do not remember even Golovanov taking the Third Symphony finale quite this fast. This may be something to do with the Russian tradition. Earlier this year (2010) in a BBC radio programme in the UK those who attended the infamous USSRSO/Svetlanov London concert the day after the Russian tanks invaded Prague in 1968 recalled how headlong were their performances of Smetana's Bartered Bride and I have noted similar quick tempos in RLPO concerts by the wonderful Petrenko notably in his Prokofiev Classical Symphony. After the very agreeably recorded echo of the final bars of the Symphony it is somewhat of a disappointment that the final exultant tam-tam impact is not captured with the long decay to be found in the classic 1960s Kondrashin Moscow Philharmonic or the 1980s Järvi-Chandos.
Still these are memorable recordings with no hint of studio time-serving about them. Well worth the small outlay and full of intriguing detail as well as romantic sweep.
Shortcomings? Well the audio side does at times cross the line between lustre and glare. This is the aural equivalent of Klimt but backlit with more candlepower than we may be used to. The effect is not the most subtle but passion compensates. These performances positively throb. Listen to the brass blast out at 3.30 at the end of those intense interlocking waves of violin sound in the first movement of the Second Symphony. The Allegro molto sprints, scuds and barks. The final Allegro vivace is cut from the same dazzling cloth. This is by several orders of magnitude a brighter wattage than my preferred choice in the Second Symphony: Rozhdestvensky with the LSO also on Regis. While Rozhdestvensky is not supplanted as a first choice this is a refreshing hyper-powered alternative with caution thrown to the wind.
Rob Barnett
A refreshing hyper-powered alternative with caution thrown to the wind.

see also review of Symphony 1 by Rob Maynard and an earlier review of Symphony 3 by Rob Barnett