Notes and Editorial Reviews
As the major labels bury their collective heads in the sand, many worthy artists and ensembles are migrating to the independents, and if this union between Ivan Fischer, his Budapest Festival Orchestra, and Channel Classics is any indication of what's in store, then music lovers have reason to rejoice. Fischer turns in what is unquestionably the finest version of the Rachmaninov Second Symphony to come along in years. His affection for and identification with the composer's idiom is complete. The performance flows majestically, with a lightness of texture that never precludes passion, and real emotional warmth that never turns sticky or overly sentimental. In this symphony, that is no mean
The very opening at once establishes Fischer's credentials: a purposeful tempo and violin phrasing that demonstrates exactly how Rachmaninov's long, winding melodies, with their sequential repetitions of tiny motives, should be played. Fischer's sense of timing and control of tension is unerring. He builds the movement to the most powerful climax since Temirkanov's famous EMI recording--a little slower, giving the percussion more time to register--and (wonder of wonders) Fischer refuses to add percussion to the very last note, the gruff sound of lower strings alone decisively vindicating the composer's original intentions. The scherzo begins swiftly, then relaxes naturally into its melting second subject, with a healthy dose of stylish string portamento tossed in for good measure. The central fugato and march are incredibly crisp and clear, with perfectly balanced quiet percussion against soft brass and chattering strings.
At 14 minutes, the Adagio strikes an ideal balance between Romantic urgency and lyrical languor, its opening clarinet solo winsomely phrased at a tempo that permits the player to really impersonate a singer. There are no dead spots: Fischer preserves the long line through the central appearances of the symphony's motto theme and that treacherous moment when the music comes to a full stop and then starts up again. The final appearances of the movement's principal theme seldom have sounded so purely beautiful, the warm tone of the strings offering richness without the slightest trace of pressure or strain.
Fischer paces the finale as well as anyone ever has, full of energy but also with carefully calibrated brass balances (trumpets and horns) in the principal theme and a second subject borne aloft on a cushion of ecstatic strings. The grand return of the motto theme in the closing pages, superbly prepared and once again played as written, without spurious cymbal crashes, offers fulfillment without bombast and brings the symphony to a joyous conclusion that in retrospect sounds absolutely punctual. And there's really no higher praise regarding a work that even the composer recognized has a serious tendency to sprawl.
Certainly Channel Classics deserves a good deal of credit as well for providing sonics so naturally balanced, warm, and impactful. The Philips recordings of this orchestra don't come close to this in realism, either in regular stereo or in 5.0 surround-sound. From the rock-solid bass to the brilliant crash of the cymbals and ping of the glockenspiel, listening in both formats is an unalloyed pleasure. Channel Classics continues to lead the industry in demonstrating the virtues of surround-sound. The added depth and spatial coherence produced by discrete use of the rear speakers is never purchased at the expense of the stereo soundstage or at a sacrifice in ensemble coherence resulting from the illusion of excessive front-to-back depth. I can't recommend this performance highly enough: everything about it is excellent, and it merits the enthusiastic attention of anyone who cares about top quality music-making presented in state-of-the-art sound. [7/6/2004]
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com Read less
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 2 in E minor, Op. 27 by Sergei Rachmaninov
Budapest Festival Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1906-1907; Russia
Songs (14), Op. 34: no 14, Vocalise by Sergei Rachmaninov
Budapest Festival Orchestra
Written: 1912-1915; Russia
Notes: Composition written: Russia (1912 - 1915).
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