Slatkin’s Rachmaninov symphonies cycle, completed with this new recording, has elicited a mixed reception. It is becoming quite a crowded field this, with some keen competition. Other commentators have suggested that Slatkin’s readings veer on the cool side. I tend to agree. The symphony’s Slavic spirit is well communicated; the first movement’s opening is tense and brooding enough and Slatkin is aided by the Detroit orchestra’s luscious playing yet things slacken shortly afterwards. The sheer intensity, drive and passion that others, notably Previn, bring to this symphony is lacking. Slatkin shapes the Allegro animato scherzo finely, with pace and poise. His Larghetto is rather restrained and careful, but the big tune at the beginning of the Allegro con fuoco finale - that introduced one of the BBC’s flagship current affairs programmes in the days of black and white television - is fiery enough with plenty of attack and rhythmic vivacity.
Three MusicWeb International reviewers, including myself, were ask to ‘blind’ review 10 recordings of Rachmaninov’s The Isle of the Dead. You can see the results by clicking on this link. It is, therefore, interesting to compare this new Slatkin reading with them. At once we get a vivid evocation of the rowing movements across the misty waters towards the island which in an early climax reveals its bulk. There are, perhaps, subtle intimations of watery movements and seagulls. The more personal episode in which we get some impression of the life of the deceased, being rowed over to the island, has passion and yearning and fearsome turbulence; this is a striking episode. For me, it is not the best Isle of the Dead but it’s persuasive and the recorded sound is excellent pinpointing much detail.
In a competitive field, these are not top-drawer performances but nonetheless reliable choices.
Previous review: Dan Morgan
Masterwork Index: Rachmaninov symphony 1