RACHMANINOFF: Symphony No. 2 – Sir Simon Rattle/London Symphony Orchestra – LSO

by | Apr 12, 2021 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

RACHMANINOFF: Symphony No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 27 – London Symphony Orchestra/ Sir Simon Rattle – LSO DSD LS00851 (3/19/21) 58:50 [Distr. PIAS.com] ****:

The rendering of Rachmaninoff’s 1908 Second Symphony in E Minor, in its uncut edition, is a pleasure that came to me first by Kurt Sanderling in Leningrad (only slightly edited) and then in full glory with Leonard Slatkin from St. Louis. The music, driven by its opening motif, set as Largo – Allegro moderato, virtually inhabits the entire score, laden with nostalgia. Here, live from the Barbican Centre (18-19 September 2019), Sir Simon Rattle invokes the music’s colorful energies, infused by such touches as the English horn, tuba, bass clarinet, and lush work from the divided string choirs.  

The excellent, melodic narrative of the first movement gains by Rattle’s easy sense of transition, moving into the G Major secondary development that leads to a bit of mortal storm in the manner of both this composer’s and Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini. The middle section of the A Minor scherzo, Allegro molto, likewise enjoys the lush, plastic romanticism of Rachmaninoff’s especial pathos. The colors of the scherzo benefit from the LSO brass and their clear tocsins, abetted by the battery section and its glockenspiel. The vigorous figurations, even in counterpoint, enjoy clarity and resonance, at once. 

The symphony’s introduction from movement one contributes much to the wonderful sigh that dominates the A Major Adagio, a song without words from beginning to end. “Melody is music, the basis of music as a whole, since a perfect melody implies and calls into being its own harmonic design,” stated the composer. The LSO strings, in harmony with the solo clarinet and the later violin solo, engage in a luxurious duet en masse, yet another suggestion of the Francesca da Rimini episode in Dante that moved both Rachmaninoff and his admired Franz Liszt. Even the pregnant pause that heralds the recap of the main theme with horn has an expressive sense of drama. Rattle rather molds the lyric with a tender diminuendo, which the able cellist and conductor Casals declared the soul of music.

The E Major finale, Allegro vivace, projects an exuberant scale of motion, accommodating several episodes of contrasted emotional intensity. The sheer, upward assertiveness of the motto theme has the exuberant, even militant, confidence of a composer in sympathy with the Richard Strauss of his early opus Don Juan. Of all of the work’s four movements, the finale’s occasional rhetorical redundancies do hint that some of the composer’s own cuts were warranted. On the other hand, the melodic impulse proves so innately gratifying that we welcome the heroism in a song much celebrating the composer’s own sense of renewal. 

So, bask in the luxury of Rachmaninoff’s melodic generosity, courtesy of producer Andrew Cornall and Classic Sound Ltd. I do wish another Rachmaninoff work graced this program.

—Gary Lemco


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