Notes and Editorial Reviews
Strong, passionate and memorable melodies.
Symphony No. 2.
Gianandrea Noseda, cond; BBC Phil
CHANDOS 10589 (74:52)
Here we have Gianandrea Noseda’s latest installment in his Chandos Rachmaninoff cycle of symphonies and tone poems. The first release, containing the Symphony No. 1, an early “Youth” Symphony,
and the symphonic poem
The Isle of the Dead
, was reviewed in
32:2 by Paul Ingram, who expressed mixed feelings about the readings, and ultimately came down in favor of other versions. I haven’t heard that CD, so I start with a blank slate.
Of Rachmaninoff’s three numbered symphonies, the Second has been by far the most popular and oft-recorded; thus, Noseda and the BBC are up against not just sheer numbers—more than 70 currently listed versions—but some real heavy-hitters in this arena, including André Previn with the Royal Philharmonic on Telarc (still my all-time favorite), Ormandy with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Dutoit with the Philadelphia Orchestra (coupled as here with
), and Ashkenazy with the Concertgebouw.
For me, Previn has long stood out as having a special affinity for certain English composers, namely Elgar, Vaughan Williams, and Walton; so I guess it never occurred to me that he would exhibit an equal flair for the Russian Rachmaninoff until I came to know his recordings of the concertos and Paganini Rhapsody with Ashkenazy at the piano and his recordings of the symphonies with the London Symphony Orchestra. His version of the Symphony No. 2 with the LSO is, by some accounts, even finer than his later remake for Telarc with the RPO; but for me, the spectacular sonics of the Telarc version more than compensate for the LSO’s slightly tighter ensemble and Previn’s slightly tauter reading in the earlier account.
What I find rather remarkable about this new version by Noseda, though perhaps I shouldn’t, is that Chandos now has four different entries in the catalog all competing against one another. First came Alexander Gibson with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in 1980, then Mariss Jansons with the Philharmonia in 1986, then Valeri Polyanskii with the Russian State Symphony Orchestra in 1997, and now Noseda with the BBC in 2010. So on average of once every 10 years, Chandos gives us another Rachmaninoff Second. One cannot help but whimsically wonder if, after four tries, they’ve finally gotten it right.
Noseda’s first movement, at 21:48, may seem a bit longish, but it’s because he takes the exposition repeat, not because he’s any more slowish than others named above. This adds about three minutes to the movement’s duration. Subtracting that out to account for the differences in timings by conductors who omit the repeat—which is most—Noseda’s tempos are fairly typical. It should be mentioned that Rachmaninoff’s attitude toward repeats was much in line with Brahms’s: If the audience showed signs of flagging interest, such as coughing and fidgeting, it was time to move on.
Where I hear the biggest difference between Noseda and, say, Previn, who I’m using as my benchmark, is in Noseda’s more episodic approach to the score vs. Previn’s view of the piece as an organic, unified, coherent whole. Admittedly, it’s hard now and then
to want to go skinny-dipping in the inviting waters of Rachmaninoff’s Black Sea, so I do not fault Noseda for his occasional uninhibited indulgences. In fact, the more I listened to this performance, the more swayed I found myself by the wealth of detail that emerged from Noseda’s reading and by the richness of Rachmaninoff’s score.
Not insignificantly, Chandos’s recording has much to do with the effect, a point noted by Ingram in his review of the Symphony No. 1 in this cycle. The sheer breadth and depth of the soundstage are astonishing. Much of the heavy lifting in the Second Symphony falls to the violins, as Rachmaninoff unapologetically hands them some of his most heart-on-sleeve melodic material, and the violins here positively glow with a radiant sheen. But it’s in bringing to the fore the rhythmic counterpointing in the lower strings as, for example, beginning at 12:48 in the first movement, that Noseda and the Chandos recording team really deliver a visceral punch. Nor should the BBC’s principal clarinetist—uncredited in the booklet notes, but who I believe is Richard Hosford—go unmentioned for his gorgeous playing of the solo at the beginning of the third movement.
One last point to note is that all of Rachmaninoff’s once sanctioned cuts are restored, revealing a number of bars of music throughout that may be unfamiliar to some listeners, as, for example, from 5:35 to 6:09 in the third movement. I’m not sure how much these restored measures add—the composer’s original instincts in cutting them may have been right—but completists and those who love this symphony, as I do, will appreciate the opportunity to linger a bit longer in its lushness. I was hooked with my very first recording of the work, even in a significantly cut version on an RCA LP, which I still have, with Adrian Boult and the London Philharmonic; and while I’m not about to toss
or any other of my beloved versions away, this new Noseda performance will now stand beside Previn’s as one of my reference recordings.
Where I come from, “The Rock” is what we call Alcatraz. For Rachmaninoff, note author David Nice isn’t sure exactly to what or to whom his orchestral fantasy
refers. It’s either to Mikhail Lermontov’s poem of the same name, from which the composer quotes its opening lines as an epigraph, or to Anton Chekov’s short story
On the Road
, which opens with the same lines. Either way, Rachmaninoff’s first orchestral work to have staying power is a harbinger for the Russian gloom and brooding that would come to pervade much of his music.
This is a stunning release, and one that I strongly recommend to anyone on the lookout for a new recording of Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
When comparing these two Rachmaninoff works side by side one is aware of how far the composer had come in advancing his skills.
The Rock was composed after he had graduated in 1892, fourteen years before his Second Symphony. It is interesting to see how far the composer had advanced over a period of 14 years.
The Rock started life as a piece inspired by a short story of Chekhov,
Na puti. It tends to mask its obvious freshness by an absence of the rich orchestral textures that Rachmaninoff became known for in his now famous symphony. Written when Rachmaninoff was 20,
The Rock is clearly the work of a young composer setting out to gain his confidence, yet there are corners of charm that makes the piece respectable in its own right.
Symphony No. 2 is one of Rachmaninoff’s finest compositions where his latent talents surface. Following an obvious disappointment in his unsuccessful 1st Symphony, it displays a marked confidence in the ascendant and indicates the composer’s strengths at the zenith of his career. Strong, passionate and memorable melodies run through the work. The broad sweep of rich harmony over its broad canvas have made the work a favourite in the concert hall ever since. Symphony No. 2 has many recordings to its name and one wonders what fresh aspects this BBC Philharmonic recording can bring to the public with yet another performance.
This performance reinstates a number of cuts that the composer made after its first performance and so it is interesting to hear the originally intended construction. I notice a few places where if my memory serves me correctly there are different phrases and chords and these can provide a refreshing change. In the third movement there has been a long cut after 4:00 in since here a fresh section begins. I do not find its inclusion lifts the work and have to consider that Rachmaninoff probably cut it for good reason. I leave the listener to judge whether they think this was a good thing or not. The flow of the revised score is probably tighter and helps the development. A certain strength in this recording lies in its leader, Yuri Torchinsky, who will be very much at home with this Russian composer. It also does not go unnoticed that Italian conductor, Gianandrea Noseda, studied under Valery Gergiev (of Mariinsky fame) and will have also studied Rachmaninoff in his training. The orchestra provides an excellent reading of the score.
The Rock as a work I can take or leave and despite its good playing it does not enthuse. It is the vibrant glories of the Second that for me are cherished. We are told that the Second Symphony was sketched in a charming garden villa in Dresden, Germany. Despite this, the effects of Rachmaninoff’s often depressive state looms in the 1st movement (largo). The self-critical composer laboured considerably over his 1st movement. Then he worked more speedily and profitably over the later and clearly inspired movements that carry a momentum to which the orchestra responds. The flamboyant fireworks of the 4th movement (Allegro vivace) are spectacular. Elsewhere the tempi, warm horns, bright string playing and rich acoustic combine to establish a magical wonderment that tingles the senses.
The booklet presents notes in English, German and French.
-- Raymond J Walker, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 2 in E minor, Op. 27 by Sergei Rachmaninov
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1906-1907; Russia
The Rock, Op. 7 by Sergei Rachmaninov
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1893; Russia
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