Masterwork Index: Rachmaninov Symphony 2
The very first disc by Vasily Petrenko and the RLPO that I reviewed was
outstanding coupling of Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances and
of the Dead. In that review
I expressed the hope that they would record the Second symphony. Now, some
years and several well-received discs later, they have done so. It seems
that a symphony cycle is in progress because this follows fairly hot on
heels of a recording of the Third Symphony that I welcomed
back in May 2012. In fact, my colleague, Ralph Moore selected that as one
of the Year for 2012. In so doing he commented that the RLPO is
under Petrenko’s leadership. I agree and this disc provides further
of that reinvigoration.
Petrenko’s new recording is up against some formidable
competition, including the classic André Previn/LSO reading.
Another strong challenge comes from a recording by Valery Gergiev,
which I reviewed not long ago. Since then I’ve been listening
also to an LSO recording conducted by Gennadi Rozhdestvensky
(review) which I’d overlooked and to which my attention
was kindly drawn by MusicWeb International reader, Martin Walker.
There are a good number of other recordings with excellent credentials,
as a look at our Masterworks
Index will show. The size of the field is in itself eloquent
testimony to how highly the symphony is regarded nowadays after
a long struggle to establish a secure place in the repertoire.
I think Petrenko miscalculates slightly at the very start of the symphony.
motto theme, which is given out straightaway by the lower strings, is so
that it’s insufficiently distinct. I played all three of the
mentioned above at the same volume setting and in each case the theme
quietly but clearly. Actually, in the case of the Previn it’s too
unless one reduces the volume setting because his recording, made in 1972,
cut at rather a high level and, as a result can sound a bit brash at
Petrenko is spacious in his treatment of the introduction and I wondered
he was a little too spacious but, in fact, reaching the Allegro at 4:46
pretty much in line with Previn and Gergiev: Rozhdestvensky is a touch too
I think; the Allegro arrives at 5:10 in his performance. I must say,
that though the stopwatch might suggest otherwise I felt Previn’s
invested the introduction with slightly more of a sense of forward
than does Petrenko’s. Previn’s recording was one of the first
eschew the damaging cuts that many conductors had inflicted on the score -
my copy of its first CD incarnation proudly carries the statement
version”. However, in one sense Previn’s performance is
he doesn’t make the repeat of the first movement exposition, which
some four minutes of music. Petrenko, I’m glad to say, follows the
of Gergiev and Rozhdestvensky in observing the repeat. That can make the
movement very long unless the performance is a good one; Petrenko
the inclusion through the quality of his performance.
I enjoyed Petrenko’s account of the main body of the first movement
there were one or two instances where I felt he could and should have
the music on just a little more; one such instance is Rachmaninov’s
passage - it’s lingering under all our four conductors - immediately
the development section. The development itself (from 13:13) is handled
convincingly by Petrenko and there’s a satisfying amount of dramatic
in the performance. The RLPO, reinvigorated by their music director, as
Moore so justly observed, play keenly and strongly for him. Just once or
Petrenko is a little too ready to indulge Rachmaninov’s temptingly
phrases. One example that caught my attention is the passage from 18:56
we hear once more material that first appeared in the exposition (at
I think that on its first appearance Petrenko took it marginally faster
he does at 18:56 and the fleeter tempo works better. The concluding pages
the movement come off very well indeed; Petrenko makes this passage lively
exciting. Overall, I think the first movement is a success and the
competes well with both Previn and Gergiev. Though I enjoy
account, not least on account of the sumptuous LSO playing, I think he can
too broad in his approach to this movement. Significantly, his performance
in at 24:30, whereas Petrenko’s and Gergiev’s timings are
in line with each other at 23:22 and 22:39 respectively and Previn’s
would be comparable but for the omission of the repeat.
Rozhdestvensky’s version of the scherzo is uncompetitive: his tempi
far too deliberate for my taste. The other three versions are all very
Petrenko launches the movement propulsively, getting the RLPO to
the rhythms strongly. When Rachmaninov introduces one of his trademark
string melodies (1:17) Petrenko gives it full value and ensures the music
warmly phrased. At the meno mosso (3:30) the fugal music is
etched though his fiddles aren’t divided: Riccardo Chailly showed
benefit of such an arrangement in his recent superb live performance of
symphony in Birmingham (review).
The RLPO’s principal clarinettist - who, sadly, is un-credited -
the most of the famous solo at the start of the slow movement, playing it
eloquently. By contrast, Gergiev’s player sounds a touch reticent,
least as recorded, and the tone is rather narrow. Andrew Marriner is very
for Rozhdestvensky; his tone is lovely and he leads the listener on
the long solo with some fine phrasing and super dynamic contrasts. Jack
for Previn, is not, perhaps, as daring with the dynamics as Marriner but
plangent tone conveys Rachmaninov’s tender melancholy beautifully
his playing is marvellously controlled; he remains in a class of his own.
player benefits from a better, more modern recording than Brymer and I
the silky tone. Petrenko is very convincing in this movement, for example
it to an ardent climax at the end of the first half (6:39). All
of the RLPO play splendidly for him and I don’t think anyone hearing
account of this gloriously romantic movement will be disappointed.
The finale begins exultantly; Petrenko invests it with fine sweeping
After an explosive start Rachmaninov can’t resist another excursion
a lyrical byway. The yearning string theme at this point (2:50) is given
value by Petrenko but I like the way in which, even here, he maintains an
urgency. This reading of the finale is excellent and sets the seal on a
fine reading of the symphony.
I haven’t had the opportunity to compare this new Petrenko
exhaustively against the competition, which I’m aware is formidable.
against the three versions mentioned in this review, all of which have
claims on the attention of collectors, I think it stands up pretty well. I
my expectations have been met. The three dances from the one act opera,
constitute an attractive filler.
There’s a good note by David Gutman and the engineers - two separate
- have ensured that the performances are reported in good sound.