Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 1 - Feltz
Dreyer Gaido CD 21100
Classical - Orchestral
Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 1
Gabriel Feltz (conductor)
Right up to the present day Sergei Rachmaninoff’s works are all too easily characterised as being “romantic salon music”. Especially just after the Second World War Rachmaninoff’s long melodic phrases and the voluptuous sound of his compositions were often regarded as being somewhat dubious. Even today many critics hold his music to be sentimental and ornate. These judgements and characterisations are, however, often made taking only a very small part of Rachmaninoff’s complete oeuvre into account. A large part of this is, even today, scarcely known in Germany. The First Symphony, which he composed at the age of 22, is one of these works. It gives us a completely new perspective on this supposedly well-known composer.
Review by Adrian Quanjer - December 22, 2019
How well do we know this label? Asking myself this question I did some research to discover that it specialises -in broad terms- in unusual and exotic, as well as big romantic repertoire, the latter mainly around maestro Gabriel Feltz and his former (Stuttgart Philharmoniker) and present (Dortmund Philharmoniker) orchestra. This release is one of a complete set of Rachmaninov symphonies, which clearly went under the radar on this site. I find it mighty good.
As far as the orchestra is concerned, I don’t think there is any other European country were regional orchestras are as good as in Germany. Greatly helped by subsidies and/or enterprising local cultural programmes. I must admit that this is the first time I have heard the Dortmund Philharmoniker with, according to the booklet, a full complement of 86 musicians, amongst which a 60-piece string section. All in all, enough for a solid Russian sound frame. Moreover, the Rachmaninov credentials of its present Music Director, Gabriel Feltz, find recognition in obtaining, in 2007, the coveted “Prix Rachmaninov’, awarded by the Swiss ‘Sergej Rachmaninoff Foundation’ for his “exceptionally extensive Rachmaninov concert cycle” (with his previous Stuttgart orchestra).
I compared with Andre Previn and the LSO, for many a reference. It being an older RBCD recording, the sound quality cannot match the one recorded by TRITONUS for Feltz. Their sound engineers come from the ‘North-West German Musical Academy in Detmold’ (Detmolder Hochschule für Musik), purveyors of other top recording teams, like, if I’m not mistaken, Take5 (BIS) and ARS Produktion. The result is that, soundwise, Gabriel Feltz and his Dortmund forces have already a leading edge over much of the competition. And in terms of musicality, they come close to Previn & Co.
Dynamics play an important role in Rachmaninov’s symphonic output. In less experienced hands, this first, brimming with youthful exuberance, can easily turn into a lamentable melodrama. Feltz clearly understands how to use these to heighten emotion, keeping an admirable grip on his musicians, whilst maintaining an excellent forward thrust. No wonder his contract with the orchestra has been renewed before his initial term was over.
In conclusion, I’d say that this has been a pleasant and unexpected surprise. Not only may this help others to make the right choice, but it also induced me to order No. 3 as a replacement for an ageing copy in the Exton set with de Waart. There are two things though some people may have difficulty with: The duration of 45 minutes (like an LP in the olden days) and the applause at the end (well-merited).
Blangy-le-Château, Normandy, France.
Please note that I have upgraded the stars after several further listening sessions. Feltz clearly understands the composer's mindset behind this symphony and has the extraordinarily quality to convey it to the audience in all its glory and mastery. This is now my top choice for #1
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