Rachmaninov: Symphony in D minor (Youth); Symphony No. 1 in D minor, Op. 13; Isle of the Dead

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COMPOSERS: Rachmaninov
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Rachmaninov
WORKS: Symphony in D minor (Youth); Symphony No. 1 in D minor, Op. 13; Isle of the Dead
PERFORMER: BBC Philharmonic/Gianandrea Noseda
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10475

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Rachmaninov’s First Symphony of 1895 was long suppressed and published only after the composer’s death. Its disastrous premiere under Glazunov and the subsequent collapse of Rachmaninov’s self-confidence are well known. But posterity has formed a different view: the composer Robert Simpson went so far as to argue that had he followed the First ‘with advancing successors [Rachmaninov] would have been one of the great symphonists’ of his day, a view endorsed by David Brown, Britain’s leading authority on Russian music. It is certainly tauter and leaner than its two successors and its material more closely integrated. Gianandrea Noseda and the BBC Philharmonic have the work’s measure and their performance has a full-blooded intensity and fire. Tempos are well judged and orchestral textures well blended. Noseda balances a strong sense of the piece’s architecture with its expressive eloquence and rich nostalgia. It is a reading that can rank alongside the classic Ormandy (Sony) and Pletnev (DG) accounts, both of whom bring a special authority to the Symphony. The Isle of the Dead, haunting and powerful in conception, is an undisputed masterpiece. Noseda captures the work’s concentration and anguish with its inexorable sense of movement. The so-called Youth Symphony, written in 1891 when the composer was 17, is derivative and still under the spell of Tchaikovsky but well worth having. The sound has warmth and opulence and, as one expects from the partnership of Stephen Rinker and Mike George, finely balanced textures. Robert Layton