RACHMANINOFF: Symphony No. 2 in E minor – Concertgebouw Orch./ Mariss Jansons – RCO Live RCO 16004 multichannel 5.0 SACD, 55:49 (6/24/16) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

A fine offering of this popular symphony.

Rachmaninoff composed his Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Op. 27 in 1906-1907. Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony premiered in St. Petersburg on February 8, 1908, with the composer conducting. Originally, the work was dedicated to Sergei Taneyev, a Russian composer and teacher who studied under Tchaikovsky. The symphony is one of Rachmaninoff’s most popular works and there are no shortages of fine performances.

This disc is an excellent addition to the roster, and while it is a new release in this incarnation the recording is from 2010 and it was previously released under the title Mariss Jansons Live: The Radio Recordings. 

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra has recorded the Second many times, and under many conductors, including Vladimir Ashkenazy, Kirill Kondrashin and Kurt Sanderling.

The performance here is first-rate and highly emotional, as the Second should be. Jansons is in full control of the orchestra, and he offers a rousing interpretation. The 5.0 SACD layer is crisp with a very stable image at the front speakers. The rear channels are subdued, springing to life as the orchestra plays more dynamically. It’s then I can hear the decay of the Concertgebouw venue in Amsterdam.

Is this the best Rachmaninoff for the disc shopper? It’s a good one, but I’m still very partial to the LSO/Previn. Ormandy had also done some superb performances on Columbia.

Still, this RCO with Jansons is a fine modern recording, well-played and a welcome addition to the archive. My only gripe is there was room on the disc for more music. Surely something else from Rachmaninoff would fit.

—Mel Martin