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Rachmaninov: Symphony No 2, Vocalise / Slatkin, Detroit Symphony

Rachmaninoff / Dso / Slatkin
Release Date: 01/26/2010 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8572458  
Composer:  Sergei Rachmaninov
Conductor:  Leonard Slatkin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

A new benchmark for Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony.

What a far cry this recording of the Rachmaninov Second Symphony is from the old Detroit Symphony recording by Paul Paray, as I remember it. That was lean to the point of being bare and, while exciting enough, it lacked any kind of romantic ardor. The exact opposite was the recording I grew up with and still have on LP, Eugene Ormandy’s with the Philadelphia Orchestra. That was very lush and string-heavy with plenty of portamento that left one wallowing in sheer sound. One wasn’t aware of any of the counter-melodies by the winds, only the swooping strings! On CD my favorite was Andrew Litton’s with the Royal Philharmonic on Virgin that seemed a better balance of the
Read more score’s elements. I also appreciated both of André Previn’s accounts, the EMI for his dynamic interpretation, and the Telarc for its splendid sound. I have never cared much for Ashkenazy’s Concertgebouw recording on Decca, which I found rather coarse sounding, although I have liked his other Rachmaninov discs a great deal. Then, like William Hedley, in his review of the present disc, I received as a BBC Music Magazine cover disc the BBC Philharmonic recording with Edward Downes. I discarded my Litton recording and have kept the Downes ever since. However, unlike Mr. Hedley, I will now replace that recording with this new one — a performance that has everything for me except for the first movement repeat. I do not at all mind the missing repeat, as the first movement is long enough without it and it does not really add anything except length.
What’s so special about this performance is the perfect balance between the lush melodies in the strings and the delectable wind counter melodies and solos. Slatkin’s tempos seem to me to be just about perfect, too, although one could argue that he takes the second movement a bit on the fast side. Nonetheless, it works well. The performance never stagnates and the symphony is the better for it. One could not ask for warmer strings or more dynamism in the rhythms. However, it is the sheer vitality of this account that causes me to prefer it to the Downes. Credit for this is due not just to the conductor, but especially to the world-class playing of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. I have heard them over the years and they have never sounded as good as they do on this CD. Based on this, the DSO is up there with the best that America has to offer. One not-so-small thing I should also point out is that Slatkin does not allow a spurious timpani thwack at the end of the first movement (neither did Downes) and sticks to the score as written. Furthermore, Naxos has captured this performance in sound that is both rich and clear, and very natural. The applause at the end of this live account is fully justified. I wanted to cheer along with them. It was a good idea for the insert to list the orchestra’s personnel, as they really deserve the credit. Keith Anderson’s notes preceding the listing are also exemplary.
As a bonus, the CD begins with the well-loved Vocalise in a sensitive performance that matches that of the symphony. Litton also included that on his recording. Pace Mr. Hedley, this new recording of Rachmaninov’s Second is now my benchmark.

-- Leslie Wright, MusicWeb International

Here's a live performance of the Second Symphony that really lives up to the expectations of a live event: exciting, spontaneous, and impulsive, but also beautifully shaped and extremely well played. Leonard Slatkin's Rachmaninov cycle during his early years in St. Louis represented one of his finest efforts for Vox, so there's no question that he knows the music well. But this performance is in another league entirely. First of all, he doesn't mess with Rachmaninov's percussion parts, and believe me that's a good thing. There's no nasty timpani thwack at the end of the first movement, no extra cymbal crashes in the finale--it's just what the man wrote, and wrote so well.

This is a small detail, but Slatkin is no less adept in addressing the big picture. The first movement, urgently flowing, rises to a huge climax, probably the best since Temirkanov/EMI, assisted by some terrific brass playing. The scherzo is very quick, and hugely exciting. The return to the opening theme after the central fugato and march is unforgettable. Slatkin never lets the Adagio bog down or turn soggy; it's fresh and lyrical, while the finale is just plain thrilling, with the horns and trumpets aptly celebratory in the main theme and the strings playing their collective hearts out in the big tune at the end. The sonics are excellent, crowd noise is minimal, and the Vocalise makes a nice filler. Terrific!

-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

Songs (14), Op. 34: no 14, Vocalise by Sergei Rachmaninov
Conductor:  Leonard Slatkin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1912-1915; Russia 
Symphony no 2 in E minor, Op. 27 by Sergei Rachmaninov
Conductor:  Leonard Slatkin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1906-1907; Russia 

Sound Samples

14 Songs, Op. 34: No. 14. Vocalise (arr. for orchestra)
Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Op. 27: I. Largo - Allegro moderato
Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Op. 27: II. Allegro molto
Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Op. 27: III. Adagio
Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Op. 27: IV. Allegro vivace

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