Sunday, January 21, 2007

CD REVIEW: Rachmaninov Symphony No. 2, Cincinnati Symphony

From Classics

Symphony No. 2; Scherzo; Dances from Aleko
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Paavo Järvi
Telarc- 80670(CD)
Reference Recording - Temirkanov (EMI); Svetlanov (Moscow Studio); Litton (Virgin)


This is a very impressive Rachmaninov 2nd. Paavo Järvi's lithe, athletic phrasing and generally brisk tempos keep the energy level high while generating much excitement in the outer movements. The first movement is brisk and dramatic thanks to Järvi's overall light approach, while the Finale skips along happily. The Adagio is the performance's high-point, as Järvi adopts a flowing pace that turns urgent in the central section leading to the big climax. He also reveals much interesting (usually unheard) inner detail (bassoons, stopped horns). The Finale is the same in this respect, and as the performance focuses your attention on Rachmaninov's brilliant orchestration you become aware of the sonic similarities between this work and the later Third Symphony.

Järvi's scherzo is fine too
, although here is where the recording's sonic limitations are most evident. The strings sound set back behind the rest of the orchestra in the very live acoustic of Cincinnati's Music Hall, and the resulting echo blurs the trio's staccato string passages. Elsewhere (except the Adagio) the strings are usually overpowered--especially unfortunate in the first movement where Rachmaninov's lustrous scoring should give them more prominence. I'd be curious to hear a multi-channel SACD version to see if it corrects this imbalance. Still, the recording does boast Telarc's trademark realism and dynamic impact, and with the Cincinnati Symphony playing so magnificently, few listeners are going to be disappointed with this disc. The filler pieces--Rachmaninov's early, Mendelssohnian Scherzo and two dances (Women's Dance and Men's Dance) from his opera Aleko--are icing on the cake.

--Victor Carr Jr.

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