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Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 2 (Callaghan/Takenouchi)

Simon Callaghan, Hiroaki Takenouchi (piano) (Nimbus)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

Symphony No. 2 (arr. two pianos)
Simon Callaghan, Hiroaki Takenouchi (piano)
Nimbus NI8110   59:38 mins

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In their introductory note to this new arrangement, Simon Callaghan and Hiroaki Takenouchi express surprise that Rachmaninov never made a two-piano arrangement of this symphony. Yet their avowed aim has been ‘to create a true piano work, rather than a less-than-satisfactory imitation of the orchestral version’. The problem is that Rachmaninov’s symphony is not a piano work he subsequently orchestrated, but was absolutely conceived for orchestra; Callaghan and Takenouchi, by denying the capability of two pianos to at least suggest orchestral textures, have in effect refused to meet Rachmaninov’s great work even halfway to fulfil its musical character.

It is remarkable, then, how much of their transcription works – the beautiful slow third movement is perhaps most successful. But elsewhere we too often get passages which, while undeniably pianistic, are travesties of Rachmaninov’s original. Most egregious is their transcription of the tension-filled final stretch of the first movement’s development, with no attempt being made to suggest the violins’ straining upwards a semitone at a time against horn fanfares: instead, everything is played staccato, creating a generalised tintinnabulatory effect.

Admittedly, there are other passages where bell-like sounds are hard to avoid on the piano. But Callaghan and Takenouchi’s rather percussive style of playing even in the climax of the slow movement suggests that they have deliberately brought out – or rather added – this quality. They appear to forget that Rachmaninov as a great song writer and composer of the All-Night Vigil also valued cantabile melodies, a crucial element in this most songful symphony.

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Daniel Jaffé