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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943) Symphony No. 1 in D minor , Caprice Bohémien    Alexander Anissimov conducts the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland NAXOS 8.550806 [69:14]
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Anissimov's blistering yet highly sympathetic reading of Rachmaninov's youthful and tempestuous First Symphony rivals any other recording of this greatly underrated work. Rachmaninov wrote it in 1895. It was performed badly and it was received so poorly that Rachmaninov felt humiliated and dispirited, and promptly withdrew it. The symphony was not performed again in his lifetime. The score was lost, but in 1945 it was reconstructed from surviving orchestral parts. It is probably best known today for the assertive and virile tune at the beginning of the finale which was used some years ago to introduce Panorama, the BBC TV current affairs programme.

Anissimov draws playing of great passion and excitement from his Irish players. The strings are especially beautiful; their playing of their often complex and exacting parts is both precise and eloquent. The taut-spring tension inherent in the score is heightened with the odd exception of the first big climax about eight minutes into the first movement where more of a whip-lash response would have raised the temperature; but this is a relatively minor carp in such an overall rivetting performance. In contrast to all the bombast there is Rachmaninov's Slavic melancholy which is most movingly conveyed; Anissimov lovingly shapes that long-breathed yearning melody which is the highlight of the slow movement.

Rachmaninov began his less well-known Caprice Bohémien in 1892. It is a substantial 20 minute piece but less assured. It dwells in dark, melancholy places for rather too long without a memorable theme but things look up when the tempo quickens and becomes more exciting true gypsy dance rhythms emerge. The music suggests sunny Spain as well as Eastern Europe. Again Anissimov delivers a convincing reading.

I do not hesitate in recommending this version of Rachmaninov's thrilling First Symphony


Ian Lace


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