Sergei RACHMANINOFF (1873-1943) Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Op. 27 [60:24] Vocalise, arr. for counter-tenor and orchestra [4:19]
Gürzenich Orchester Köln/Dmitri Kitajenko
Valer Sabadus (counter-tenor)
rec. 2013, Studio Stolberger Strasse; Philharmonie, Cologne, Germany OEHMS CLASSICS OC441 [64:44]
This is an extraordinary performance of the Rachmaninoff Second Symphony. It gets even better as it goes along, too. The scherzo crackles with whip-fast energy, and the bass drum resounds powerfully thanks to great engineering. The adagio builds to a huge outpouring of romantic beauty. That’s true of most good recordings of the symphony, but especially so here, with the string section especially rich and old-fashioned in its sound - lots of portamenti. Then Dmitri Kitajenko caps it all with a finale that never wavers in its momentum, building to a final coda that is almost overwhelmingly joyful. The last statement of the symphony’s big Motto Theme, here, is truly the climax of the entire hour-long work.
I wish I could stop writing here. I listened to this CD three times before even beginning to review it. That’s how enjoyable the album is, and how hard it is to stop listening and start critiquing. For what is there to say? I have a lot of recordings of the Rachmaninoff Second Symphony: Previn (EMI), Previn (Telarc), Temirkanov (RCA), Slatkin (Naxos), Rozhdestvensky/LSO (Regis) and Jansons (EMI). Anissimov (Naxos) and Lan Shui (BIS) are unexpected successes, too. While it may be the case that nobody will ever top the sheer visceral excitement of the Rozhdestvensky/LSO recording, this new recording is as good as any of the others. Sound quality is top-notch, too.
The Gürzenich Orchester Köln may not be a household name, but they’ve been around for over a century, having given the premiere performances of the Brahms double concerto and two Mahler symphonies. More recently, they’ve established their credentials in Russian music with Dmitri Kitajenko, recording superb or even definitive recordings of the Prokofiev and Shostakovich symphonies. This Rachmaninoff recording only adds to that tradition of orchestral, interpretative and sonic success.
As a bonus, you get Vocalise in a very unusual arrangement for counter-tenor and orchestra. Valer Sabadus’s voice is hauntingly beautiful, so if you for some reason need a dessert after the ultra-indulgent main course, you will be well-pleased. Outstanding all around.