Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 2 - Rattle
LSO Live LSO0851
Classical - Orchestral
Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 2
London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Simon Rattle (conductor)
One of Rachmaninoff’s most popular pieces, the Second Symphony is an indulgently melancholic and sentimental work: a magic box of the late-Romantic orchestra. Dramatic sections played by the full orchestra contrast heart-breaking swells that only this composer could have written.
The LSO has a long history with the Second Symphony, recording it many times with conductors such as André Previn, Gennady Rozhdestvensky and Valery Gergiev. For this recording, which was captured during the opening of the London Symphony Orchestra's 2019/20 season at the Barbican Hall, the Orchestra's Music Director Sir Simon Rattle conducted from memory, performing the uncut version of this symphonic treasure.
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Review by Graham Williams - April 21, 2021
This recording of Rachmaninov’s 2nd Symphony was made from performances given by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Simon Rattle in the Barbican Hall on the 18th and 19th of September 2019. With a considerable number of excellent versions on CD and SACD available, of what to many will be an over familiar piece, from such conductors as Andrew Litton, Iván Fischer, Valery Gergiev, Vernon Handley and Edo de Waart one wonders what, if anything, Rattle can bring to what is already a bounteous table.
Well, the good news first. The regular Classic Sound team of Jonathan Stokes and Neil Hutchinson have done first-class job. The sound quality on this 5.1 multi-channel hybrid SACD, recorded in what has generally been regarded as the unforgiving acoustic of the Barbican, is considerably better than on many earlier LSO Live releases. It is spacious, well focused and mostly free of the dryness that to some extent blighted Gergiev’s recording of the symphony for the same label.
Rattle first recorded a less than well received account of this work for EMI at the start of his tenure as Principal Guest Conductor with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra back in 1984, but though he has programmed it in Berlin and elsewhere on tour with the LSO it has not been a piece central to his wide musical interests. Although, as is usually the case these days, he does perform the uncut version of the work, he omits the exposition repeat in the opening movement which is a pity. To be fair, he is not alone in doing this amongst the conductors listed above, but for an SACD lasting 58.50 it would have been be gratifying for it to have been included. Tempi in all four movements are unexceptionable and overall Rattle’s account of this score is free from any unwelcome interpretative mannerisms, while the ever responsive LSO play for him with their customary sleek suppleness and commitment throughout. For many this will be enough, but others who love this richly melodic score will miss the many nuances other interpreters bring to it. Admirers of this conductor’s many musical achievements are unlikely to be disappointed, but now that the puffery from the British media that followed Rattle’s appointment as Music Director of the LSO has evaporated following the announcement of his forthcoming departure to Munich’s greener pastures, others may view it more critically.
One small oddity of the presentation is perhaps worth mentioning – the spelling of the composer’s
name. Here it given as Rachmaninoff, yet on all the previous LSO Live releases and for that matter most of the recordings in my collection the spelling is Rachmaninov. Why one wonders?
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