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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873 - 1943)
CD 1
Symphony No.2 in E minor, op.27 (1907) [54:41]
The Isle of the Dead, op.29 (1909) [21:10]
CD 2
Piano Concerto No.3 in D minor, op.30 (1909) [41:46]
Symphonic Dances, op.45 (1940) [34:51]
St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra/Mariss Jansons (op.27); London Symphony Orchestra/André Previn (opp.29, 45); Leif Ove Andsnes (piano), Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra/Paavo Berglund (op.30)
rec. 13–16 September 1993, Philharmonic Hall, St Petersburg (op.27); October 1975, Kingsway Hall, London, (op.29); 8–11 March 1995, Philharmonic Hall, Oslo (op.30); December 1974, No.1 Studio, Abbey Road, London (op.45) ADD + DDD
EMI CLASSICS 2376162 [75:56 + 76:46]
Experience Classicsonline

About 18 months ago I welcomed a EMI re-issue, of the majority of Rachmaninov's orchestral works by Jansons and the St Petersburg Philharmonic (see also the original release review). Before I go any further might I remind you that this Jansons set is essential listening and should be on every record shelf for it is without peer. The present set includes the recording of the second Symphony from that earlier box thus putting this re–issue into competition with itself! I cannot see the point of this for EMI has Previn's fine complete recording of this Symphony (recently reissued again as part of EMI’s 10CD set of André Previn - The Great Recordings 50999 2 67969 2 5) in their vaults and that would have fitted very nicely into this set. Then I must remember that not everyone will want everything which is in the Jansons box – I wonder why? – and, truth be told, this is a very enticing set. If you only want the second of Rachmaninov's Symphonies then this is for you.
Quite often the 3rd Concerto doesn't satisfy me as much as I always expect it should. It's a very elusive work – heavy with that melancholy Russian soul – and even though it is full of good things it isn't immediately approachable as is its predecessor. I suspect that some of my dissatisfaction is with the problem of interpretation. To see the piece through from beginning to end takes some feat of mental stamina, not to mention physical strength. Andsnes has both the intelligence and the heft, as well as a full understanding of this music, to know exactly how to make this music speak to us. This performance was recorded over three days of live performances and there's a thrill about it which adds that frisson of excitement to the recording. Berglund gives solid support, and the darkness of some of the music is fully realised.
Rachmaninov's funeral cortege – The Isle of the Dead – is an astonishing piece of work – a large scale funereal ode for a large orchestra with no respite whatsoever from the unremitting gloom. It's also one of Rachmaninov's greatest works in terms of suspense, atmosphere and boldness. The Symphonic Dances is Rachmaninov's final work and it's equally astonishing in what it has to say and how it says it. These two performances, from the great days of Previn and the LSO, are very fine indeed. Previn builds a fine climax whilst keeping the dirge–like tread in Isle of the Dead well in hand, never allowing the music itself to become dirge–like. He directs a suave waltz for the middle of the Dances and a strong and well focused finale. These are very well played performances but ultimately they miss the extra ounce of power which Jansons brings to them in his recordings. The ever-present menace of death in Isle of the Dead and the manic, suicidal, out of control Armageddon which is the finale of the Dances are not there. Make no mistake, these Previn performances are fine and if this coupling is to your taste then you will be very pleased with what's on offer.
Bob Briggs


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