RACHMANINOFF: Symphony No. 2 in E Minor; Caprice bohemien Op. 12 – Novosibirsk Academic Symphony Orchestra/ Arnold Kats – Audite Multichannel SACD 92.558 (Distr. Albany), 72:56 ***:
Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony has become a concert favorite with audiences. Filled with as many rich and lyrical melodies as the composer’s even more popular Second Piano Concerto, it is constructed on a grand scale. It is in the same category as that launched by Beethoven’s Ninth and continued by Bruckner and Mahler – a symphony that runs over an hour. Yet it has not always been so. Prior to the 1960s most conductors used a cut version which did little to make the symphony feel any briefer. In fact there is a cut in the first movement used by conductor Kats here. Now the work is normally restored to its intended length.
Although BMG only releases the three-channel Living Stereo Red Seal SACD titles in North America, in Europe they continue to issue stereo and multichannel SACDs, and this is one of them, imported by First Impression Music. Unfortunately I neglected to notice the Stereo legend on the back of the jewel box and again became concerned about the lack of signal to my surround speakers until it finally dawned on me there were no surround channels. The recording is a super-audiophile two-channel masterpiece engineered in 1991 by Tony Faulkner. It projected as wide and deep a soundstage as many of the three-channel SACDs, and if you insist on surround it works very well using Pro Logic II processing on the two channel source.
Temirkanov directs one of Russia’s leading orchestras with some very skilled solo chairs. The contrast in that department is especially telling vs. those of the Novosibirsk orchestra, although it is nice to have a true surround perspective on this wide-angle symphony. Temirkanov’s tempi are sprightlier too, and the orchestra just sounds more together in general, making its competition take on a rather anemic quality in comparison. The 13-minute Bohemian Caprice is a rarely-heard Rachmaninoff work, at least in the U.S., and adds a more interesting filler than the familiar string orchestra version of the Vocalise, which most collectors will already own in at least one version.
– John Sunier