Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.
Symphony No. 2
Valery Gergiev, cond; London SO
LSO LIVE 0677 (SACD: 60:53)
You can’t perform a decorous Rachmaninoff Second and make it work. It’s like attempting to put a starched collar on a sunset. The Second Symphony is about as emotionally expansive as a Russian
symphony can get, and that’s saying something. Several Russo-Soviet conductors have delivered up the goods with just this mind, having imbibed the necessary tradition—among them Golovanov, Temirkanov, Svetlanov, Rozhdestvensky, and my favorite reading to date, Sanderling/Leningrad. Yes, I know Sanderling was born in Prussia, but he left for the Soviet Union in his mid 20s, in 1936, and spent 1942 through 1960 as joint principal conductor with Yevgeni Mravinsky of the Leningrad Philharmonic. As Russian conducting pedigrees go, that’s pretty good.
Certainly you don’t have to be Russian to play this symphony convincingly, but just as certainly it can’t hurt. It doesn’t hurt Gergiev here, and despite the London Symphony Orchestra being the very model of a modern major British orchestra, the members perform with their hearts beating vividly on their sleeves. This is the unabridged version of the work, given a no-holds performance that’s at its best and most atmospheric in the supposedly problematic first movement.
You can hear it in the slow, careful shaping of the introductory theme by the darkest strings, in the first few bars, and in the various statements of the movement proper’s first theme that twice pulls back before forging ahead forcefully, gathering steam. A Chopin-like rubato figures prominently in Gergiev’s approach, and some will understandably find it mannered in degree, if not in essence. I consider his use of it in context well placed within the logical framework of the movement’s development, never sounding arbitrary, though some of the built-in moments of repose, taken here at an extremely slow pace, have an almost Wagnerian stasis. Fortunately, the more vigorous climaxes (including the big one that detonates around 17: 00) possess a tightly structured fury, and plenty of impetus. It helps, too, that the LSO is an orchestra of great beauty and warmth, with the services of a first-rate recording and editing team. Taken all together, that movement works gloriously.
I would have preferred more edge to the first theme’s phrasing in the Scherzo, though the second theme calls forth the same rich rubato heard earlier to excellent effect. The fugato lacks point, but the martial section with its tricky meter is handled with ease and transparency, and the coda, with slowed brass entries, is once again impressively atmospheric. The sumptuous Adagio is another invitation to rubato, with some especially attractive playing from the solo clarinet. I’m unimpressed by the fairly bland initial statement of the finale’s main theme, but Gergiev sets a hushed stage for the march well, and does as much later for the return of the Adagio theme (the first-movement introduction under it, clearly delineated). At several points the rhythmic figures aren’t as clearly outlined as they should be, and there’s a small flub in the brass at around 13:07, but overall, it’s a fitting conclusion to one of the more successful traversals of the Second that I’ve heard in some time. I’m not about to toss my Sanderling (currently out of print), Temirkanov (RCA Victor 61281), or Ormandy (RCA Victor 68022), but Gergiev offers solid value in a similar vein.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 2 in E minor, Op. 27 by Sergei Rachmaninov
London Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1906-1907; Russia
Featured Sound Samples
Symphony no 2: II. Allegro molto
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