Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 1 - Feltz

Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 1 - Feltz

Dreyer Gaido  CD21100

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral

Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 1

Dortmunder Philharmoniker
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.

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Reviews (1)

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

Copyright © 2019 Adrian Quanjer and


Sonics (Multichannel):

stars stars
Comments (17)

Comment by john hunter - December 22, 2019 (1 of 17)

Thanks for drawing this release to our attention Adrian.
Given the recent developments at Pentatone,it's good you find another source.
Will be ordering something from them before too long.

Comment by breydon_music - December 28, 2019 (2 of 17)

In the light of Adrian's positive comments, interesting news is that a SACD Mahler 8 by Feltz and the Dortmund Philharmonic is scheduled for Jan release in Japan - presumably broadly similar elsewhere?

Comment by Adrian Quanjer - December 30, 2019 (3 of 17)

Not in our database but in Europe available here: Cannot comment on it.

Comment by Adrian Quanjer - January 18, 2020 (4 of 17)

Forty-five minutes of music is not much. But would that be a good enough reason for not recommending this recording (as I read somewhere else)? Looks as though quantity is more important than quality. Much depends on the filler. If it is just a filler, then missing it would not be too bad, as I would switch off anyway as soon as I can to let the music linger on.

Comment by Bruce Zeisel - January 18, 2020 (5 of 17)

I have always shaken my head at comments deriding discs that are not filled to the brim. Or (even) complaining about feeling "shortchanged".

Adrian said:

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

That is enough for me !

Comment by hiredfox - February 5, 2020 (6 of 17)

A very spirited performance from the Dortmund Philharmonic, assertive and full of energy but at times a little untidy with occasional lapses in pacing. Not a great performance by any means but attractive enough because of an excellently detailed recording in which inner dynamics and stage precision are notable. I would have liked more body and sonority in the strings and there are question marks on section balances especially front to rear staging with maybe slightly over-dominant brass and woodwind.

This is what can happen in the editing suite and it is all down to a matter of taste. This listener prefers a natural concert hall acoustic without emphasis other than that of the individual musicians according to their interpretation or indeed direction from the podium. What we end up with here is a deeply convincing left to right sound stage but front-rear positioning less so with very little from the front desks which you might have expected to be the strongest.

Some will argue that the highlighting and emphasis reflects the music and the man which is all very well but it will not suit the purist. PCM recording is revealed through screechy strings in the upper registers but this recording sounds better than run-of-the-mill 96kHz SACD used by many recording houses. I wish it was DSD. Then again Gergiev's DSD survey does not demand attention in the way that Feltz does.

As for including the audience reaction, I'm OK with that but many colleagues are not from earlier correspondence. It adds to the sense of immediacy and being involved when you are listening alone in your listening room.

Nevertheless, this new addition to the catalogue receives a cautious recommendation mainly because of its freshness and upbeat optimism.

Comment by Adrian Quanjer - February 6, 2020 (7 of 17)

Hi John,

Thanks for sharing some of your considered views. Taken from two live performances lapses are in my view pardonable. Fact remains that in spite of some criticism, your recommendation for a 'very spirited performance .. assertive and full of energy’, will no doubt be well received in Dortmund.

We both know that so-called second-tier German orchestras are often of a high calibre. Not so long ago (I believe it was in the summer of 2018) the Dortmunder Phil was invited to perform Rachmaninov’s Third Symphony in the Amsterdam Concergebouw, with Gabriel Feltz at the helm, and Johannes Moser playing the solo part in Elgar's cello concerto.

To answer your point about this being a PCM recording, I must confess that I have not been able to ascertain the exact level and kind of resolution. However, on the Tritonus website one can read the following: … unserer ersten DSD-Surround Aufnahme: Live-Mitschnitt der 1. und 6. Sinfonie von Mahler mit dem San Francisco Symphony Orchestra unter Michael Tilson Thomas … This DSD recording resulted in the FSO obtaining a 2002 Grammy for Best Orchestral Performance.

By the way, I think that it is in our interest to encourage small, independent labels to continue to produce physical SACD's. Myrios, for instance, has stopped doing so. Their DSD recordings are now only available as downloads (Native DSD). More and more Hi-Res downloads are available without an equivalent SACD being released.

Comment by hiredfox - February 7, 2020 (8 of 17)

Adrian, do you have all three symphonies? How do the other two match up? John

Comment by Adrian Quanjer - February 8, 2020 (9 of 17)

I do have his third. I bought it to replace my ageing Edo de Waart’s swift-paced performance with the Netherland Radio Philharmonic (Exton set of all three plus fillers). But after a side by side comparison, my preference remains with de Waart’s reading.

Rachmaninov’s second is a long-time friend of mine ever since I heard it for the first time on an old fashioned ‘Command Classics’ LP, played by William Steinberg and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Of the several hi-res versions I own, my favourite is, once more de Waart and not -contrary to general believe- Ivan Fisher and his Budapest Festival Orchestra. I do agree that it is played ‘sans faute’, but is that enough? In my view, it lacks the real, rough-edged Russian soul, from the likes of Svetlanov on the Melodia label, and, indeed Edo de Waart. I know, it’s often a matter of personal preference, and I won’t deny that reviewing objectively is a hell of a difficult job. I cannot compare with Feltz because I don't have it.

For further thoughts on this second symphony (and differing views!), you may wish to look here: Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 2 - Litton

And now that we are on the subject: I wish we didn’t have to give stars. There is a tendency to give one too many in order not to kill off prematurely serious interpreters just because of minute differences or slight mistakes, which may, in actual fact, be ‘blurred by subjective opinion’ as well. As far as I’m concerned, text alone should suffice to give prospective buyers an idea of what they may expect.

As for sound, I did have a feeling that the first movement of Feltz’s third had a piercing ring around it (which one might attribute to PCM), but the rest came out much better and more pleasing to the ear. Due to the scoring, the (un)balance or differences in mastering? Hard to say. Still worth your while, though, especially if you like a somewhat slower, more romantic pace. But in the final analyses the competition may just be too stiff for Gabriel Feltz and his Dortmund players. But that is, of course, just one opinion.

Comment by hiredfox - February 8, 2020 (10 of 17)

I had completely forgotten how fine the Litton recording of the 2nd Symphony was until I followed your link. In fact I had forgotten that it was in my collection at all! So a timely reminder for me to dig out the disc and listen with fresh ears.

The popularity of the 2nd with almost continuous airing on FM Classical Radio stations means that when choosing music at home one tends to overlook it.

Comment by Gilbert Burnett - October 14, 2020 (11 of 17)

Just to add to the resolution debate for this release. The downloads offered for this from the likes of Presto and Qobuz are all 16/44.1 and the Qobuz stream at only 16/44.1 as well. That often (but not always) indicates that the original recording was also at 16/44.1. It has also been de-listed for Qobuz streaming. The disc is also marked 'out of stock at the uk distributors and may take 6 weeks to come back into stock'. All this raises more questions than it answers I am afraid. Some clarification from the publisher would be welcome.

Comment by Adrian Quanjer - October 15, 2020 (12 of 17)

We’ve got to be careful here. Streaming services cannot stream high definition content, so they have to revert to what is on the CD layer. It is furthermore up to Presto to choose which format they offer to clients. It is difficult to believe that a (small) quality label like dreyer-gaido would sell an upscaled RBCD recording with added fake surround.

It is true that nowhere on the covers, nor in the booklet details about the recording are given, and I cannot exclude that the recording was made using ‘in house’ equipment.

However, Tritonis is a well-respected German recording company having obtained a Grammy for the 2010 Best Engineered Album (GUSTAV MAHLER: Symphony No. VIII, San Francisco Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas) recorded in collaboration with SFS Media “with 54 channels AD on RME converters (ADI-8 QS and ADI-8)”. Doesn’t sound like amateurs at work.

But isn’t the proof of the pudding in the eating? The ultimate test is: listen for yourself to the physical product That’s what I did.

Comment by Gilbert Burnett - October 15, 2020 (13 of 17)

Only a minor point, Adrian, but streaming services do indeed stream in Hires (but not so far in surround). One of the most successful, based in your own country I think, streams at up to 24/192 with a lot at 24/96 or 24/88.2. Also Presto will offer the highest available download available to them. They may not be offered a choice. I have listened to this recording in CD quality and I found it to be very satisfying and I would certainly consider the SACD as a first choice because I find that PCM recordings (even 16/44.1) play better on my system if first converted to DSD and multi channel gives another uplift (usually!) even if artificially created using a process similar to the one Alia Vox used to use.

Comment by Adrian Quanjer - October 15, 2020 (14 of 17)

I wonder who does stream in hi-res. It would indeed be interesting to know which do, as many listen in stereo and would thus be able to profit from it. Some claim, like Deezer (?), but their hi-res concerns downloads and not streaming. As far as I know, the new MQA standard comes close but is not equal to, say DSD. If I download a DSD multi-channel file (I don’t have fiber, but all the same 21 megabits per second) it takes me on average 1 to 2 hours to download a symphony.

We can discuss these issues as previously done on this (and the old site) but isn’t the basic point: if you are satisfied with what you get, whatever the resolution, it’s OK. In the final analysis, it’s the music that counts.

That said, as far as I’m concerned and depending on the equipment, the final movement of Rachmaninoff’s first symphony, if played as loud as your ears, equipment and neighbours can handle, is breath-taking.

Comment by Gilbert Burnett - October 15, 2020 (15 of 17)

Adrian, I totally agree with you about it being the music that counts. I feel very guilty about talking about streaming on this site as, having been a member of this and the old site I am aware that it was very much a champion of SACD and I think contributed in no small part to the continued availability of existing and new issues on SACD format. Indeed there have been quite a few new SACD players of very high quality new to the market in the last few months so somebody somewhere is still buying them too. Many new players nowadays also offer streaming capability as well as the ability to act as DACs. The OPPO I have does the latter very well. The site, however does claim to be all things hi-res. I have also evolved into streaming. To answer your question though, there are quite a few companies now who offer hi resolution streaming. They achieve it in a number of different ways. Qobuz (which I subscribe to) offer up to 24/192 stereo. This does involve a flac file being downloaded temporarily to your device (computer or streamer) though this is done in bite size chunks and plays and downloads at the same time so that not too much bandwidth is needed. Tidal use MQA so that smaller files can be used. Highresaudio also do higher than CD quality. There are others. I still buy SACD because I like the sound of them and I think surround opens up the texture more and adds a concert hall 'feel' if done properly. The price being offered makes a very strong case for streaming. £15 per month gives access to 60 million tracks (a good proportion being better than CD quality and NONE less than 16/44) as many times and for however long you want is incredible value. I only hope that the industry is earning enough money from them however. If you look at the costs involved though - No disc manufacture, no printing, no transport, no stock inventory, no salesmen, no postage etc etc there cannot be much profit in discs so maybe they will be ok with streaming. Almost all classical labels are signed up to the bigger streaming services. I can't see a way for this site to earn anything from streaming reviews/listings however - another reason to feel guilty.

Comment by Kal Rubinson - February 1, 2021 (16 of 17)

I just discovered this listing/commentary but, afaik, the recording is not a new 2020 issue. I received a copy in 2016 and commented on it in my Stereophile column:

(FWIW, I agree that Feltz' Rachmaninov 2 & 3 are not as successful.)

Comment by Adrian Quanjer - February 1, 2021 (17 of 17)

Hi Kal, You are right. The symphony was a live 2016 recording. I don’t think anyone suggested that it was a new 2020 recording. (my review was belatedly done in 2019). Good to know though that we both agree on the result. I listened with an oppo 205 / wyred4sound / GoldenEar Technology system and I found the sound exemplary