MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around 2024
60,000 reviews
... and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             

Some items
to consider

new MWI
Current reviews

old MWI
pre-2023 reviews

paid for

Acte Prealable Polish recordings

Forgotten Recordings
Forgotten Recordings
All Forgotten Records Reviews

Troubadisc Weinberg- TROCD01450

All Troubadisc reviews

FOGHORN Classics

Brahms String Quartets

All Foghorn Reviews

All HDTT reviews

Songs to Harp from
the Old and New World

all Nimbus reviews

all tudor reviews

Follow us on Twitter

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Contributing Editor
Ralph Moore
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger

Support us financially by purchasing from

Serge RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Symphony No 2 in E minor, Op 27 (1907) [58:50]
London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Simon Rattle
Rec. live, 18 & 19 September 2019, Barbican Centre, London
LSO LIVE LSO0851 [58:50]

There are some major repertoire works that Simon Rattle has had a rather more complicated journey with over his long career. Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony is one; Shostakovich’s Tenth another. His early recording of the Rachmaninov E minor Symphony, made with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1983/4 for EMI, seems in part to have coincided with him conducting the work in the USA. As well as performing the work in Los Angeles, he also conducted the symphony in Boston, at Symphony Hall in October 1987, a broadcast of which exists, in not particularly decent sound I should add.

The Rattle recording appeared shortly after both the Ashkenazy and Maazel recordings, both of which had been well received, especially the former. Reviews for the Rattle, if I remember, were lukewarm. I have never enjoyed Maazel’s direct and relentless way with this symphony – nor the Berliner’s glassy playing of it – and have rather more appreciated the Los Angeles orchestra’s much more sophisticated approach to the music and Rattle’s more romantic view of the symphony. It has never really been a staple of the catalogue – unlike the Maazel and Ashkenazy recordings which have never really been out of it. The Rattle/LAPO is, basically, rather better than many either remember it or tend to suggest it is.

Fast forward a little over three decades and how things have drastically changed for Rattle, the LSO and Rachmaninov.

If there were an anti-romantic approach to this symphony this new performance would qualify for it. Like its predecessor, it’s uncut, and Rattle doesn’t take the exposition repeat. The first movement, however, although just a minute faster, is at times driven at a furious pace and in the wrong places. Rattle shows no inclination in either Los Angeles or London (nor in Boston, for that matter, with a better orchestra) to bring any sense of space or power to the opening pages; you need to go elsewhere for that – Svetlanov and the Philharmonia or Previn and the LSO. Rattle drives the pace so that climaxes – the most shattering with its incendiary echoes of Francesca da Rimini – don’t have time to achieve any kind of scale; they simply come and then they go. The recent Nott/Tokyo recording goes into these climaxes like a juggernaut, and they come out of them without the brakes on, but not as if they are heading for a car crash. One change in this LSO performance is that Rattle now ends the final note of the coda with the double basses and not on the timpani as he did in Los Angeles, although you’ll be better served by both Nott/Tokyo and Previn/LSO whose bass players press bows to their strings as if tightening a leash around the throat.

Rattle fares better in the Allegro molto, although his opening tempo has always struck me as too fast (Nott, who is only slightly quicker than Rattle in this movement, manages an Allegro molto that is in keeping with almost all the comparative versions I listened to – bar Svetlanov who is too slow). He is consistent, however, because he sets an identical tempo in his Los Angeles recording. There is no denying the precision of the LSO here – the rhythms are entirely fluid, not heavily accented as Svetlanov has the Philharmonia play them. I slightly prefer the richer tone of the Los Angeles strings, but this is in keeping with Rattle having a somewhat less romantic view of the symphony this time.

The one thing going for this Adagio is a fabulous clarinet solo from the LSO’s principal, Chris Richards. However, it is 22-bars of music that is a somewhat stark reminder of a tendency for the unaffected rhetoric we hear elsewhere. Some may prefer this very direct approach to how Rattle handles the Adagio – it is the very opposite of saccharine; but it is also remote and lacking in passion. Listen to the magnificent swelling climax up to the pause from [5:50 to 7:59] and compare it with the Previn recording [6:02 to 8:32] and the LSO’s discolouration in the lower strings, and how they dissolve into each other. This is typical of Rattle’s approach to stating the understated. Previn, however, sees his cellos and basses in a rich dialogue with each other – they rumble beneath the orchestra with a disturbing power, in a duel below the stave. It is an effect that is unique to this recording, Previn linking the music to Tchaikovsky when other conductors avoid it.

Rattle is better in the Finale – though the restatement of the Adagio on the first violins and woodwind is a missed opportunity, but hardly a surprise. He does have a tendency to switch between extremes; the coda is anticipated long before we get to it and climaxes are much as they are in the first movement. Most conductors (Previn, Nott) – even Rattle, LAPO – take a more measured approach to the coda – Svetlanov even pulls back with the NHKSO – ratcheting up the tension. Rattle isn’t one of those with this new recording; he drives the coda to the finish line with a sprint. An uncharitable view might suggest this is just to get the performance over and done with.

The Barbican acoustic doesn’t always flatter orchestras – although André Previn could get this orchestra to almost sound like Bruckner when he conducted this symphony with them. The LSO do not sound even close to that under Rattle – but nor do they sound like Previn’s old LSO either. This symphony opens its secrets quite easily in most performances and does so here. The recording is good but not exceptional.

This is by and large an underwhelming performance and not one to challenge existing recommendations of this symphony, and probably not Rattle’s earlier recording of this symphony either.

Marc Bridle

Previous reviews: John Quinn ~ Ian Julier

Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all Bridge reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

All Eloquence reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing