***********  MULTICHANNEL DISC OF THE MONTH  ************ RACHMANINOV: Sym. No. 2; LIADOV: The Enchanted Lake – Bergen PO/ Andrew Litton – BIS

A glorious performance of sumptuous demeanor and satisfying execution.

* RACHMANINOV: Symphony No. 2 in e, Op. 27; LIADOV: The Enchanted Lake – Bergen PO/ Andrew Litton – BIS multichannel SACD 2071, 70:54 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

I’ve always thought Rachmaninov the true Russian composer; something about his melodies and rich textures bespeak an authenticity that Tchaikovsky, normally considered the echt Russian composer, seems to lack. Not that the latter, easily the greater artist, was insincere. Simply that Rachmaninov’s Slavic soul was not as fettered with the cosmopolitan utterances of the internationalist Tchaikovsky.

Yet in the realm of the symphony, vitally important in Russia at the time, Rachmaninov was woefully behind his elder. After a horrid 1897 premiere of the First Symphony, his confidence, never great to begin with, waned severely. Only in 1907 did he let on that he had completed a new second symphony, and that he was concerned about it. Because of his experiences with the First, he conducted the first performances of the Second Symphony in 1908, making only minor changes afterward for balance and texture. Later on critics inspired him to sanction ill-considered cuts to the piece that only eliminated about ten minutes of total time, yet severely distorted the work’s expanded and brilliantly long-breathed structure. It’s now a repertory staple, and the recipient of many recordings.

This new one by Litton, the swansong of his tenure with the Bergen Philharmonic, is simply superb in every way. Litton has evolved into one of the finest conductors in the world, and his way with the long-drawn-out and never-ending melodies, fluctuating and yeasty harmonies, and the composer’s subtle and full-throttled dynamic range are as fine as any I have heard. I will admit that I still have a soft spot for the gloriously expansive and beautifully crafted performance by Ashkenazy and the Concertgebouw on London (and in stunning sound), but I think in the future when I want to hear this work, this is the recording I will turn to.

Liadov’s little jewel The Enchanted Lake, an atmospheric and lovely piece by a composer who was intimidated by his contemporaries, provides a nice cooling-down period after the intensity and engrossing emotions of the Rachmaninov. BIS’s sound is outstanding, the multichannel splendor adding to this electric reading.

—Steven Ritter

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