RACHMANINOV: Symphony No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 13; The Rock–Fantasia for Large Orchestra, Op. 7 – Moscow Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra/ Dmitri Kitaenko – Moscow Studio Archives

by | Jul 10, 2006 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

RACHMANINOV: Symphony No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 13; The Rock–Fantasia for Large Orchestra, Op. 7 – Moscow Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra/ Dmitri Kitaenko

Moscow Studio Archives MOS18731, 58:52 (Distrib. Allegro) ****:

I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Dmitri Kitaenko lead the Moscow Symphony around 1976 in Atlanta, where, from the opening bars of Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture, Kitaenko impressed me with his huge, rounded baton gestures, a Russian von Karajan leading his supremely drilled legion of players. He manages in these inscriptions from 1986 some heady sonic splendors out of Rachmaninov’s first symphonic effort (1896), which had proved such a dismal failure at its premier.

The opening motto theme becomes a kind of idee fixe, interlocking the entire progress of the work, rife with militant and nostalgic impulses, hints of the Dies Irae, and Russian  liturgy.  Kitaenko insists on a keen edge from his strings and brass, and the resulting, mighty mass of sound had my listening space walls shaking.  The melancholy, monolithic, Russian wind choir remains a special effect of Russian orchestras, something not quite attainable by Western ensembles.  The earlier tone poem The Rock (1894), after Chekhov, is yet another dark piece by the composer whom Stravinsky characterized as “six feet of gloom.” The interplay of the Moscow Philharmonic (1984) flute and harps eases the mood with a hint of impressionism and some strong debts to Liadov. The six-note motif that permeates the piece becomes obsessive, then follows a wild dervish dance similar to Balakirev’s Tamara. More colors than content, the piece still communicates a raw power we might even mistake for Scriabin’s youthful exoticism. That the music points to Debussy at moments gives it a legitimacy-by-hindsight that allows us to enjoy without having to apologize.

— Gary Lemco

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