WORKS: Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 2; Liadov: The Enchanted Lake
PERFORMER: Orchestra of the National Academy of Saint Cecilia/Antonio Pappano
CATALOGUE NO: EMI 949 4622 6
I’m not sure when I last enjoyed a reading of the Rachmaninov Second Symphony so much. There are many greater orchestras than the Santa Cecilia, but they play here as if possessed; the brass are on especially magnificent form.
The recording is occasionally a little muddy, and as a performance this lacks the gloss of André Previn with the LSO (EMI) or the last ounce of Russianness that Kurt Sanderling’s authoritative 1956 reading gives it (DG); but by heaven, Antonio Pappano invests the piece with a passionate sense of belief. He seems to have the tumultuous coda of the finale in his mind from the work’s very opening bars.
The big first movement is kept on a firm rein, and sounds for once entirely inevitable, even majestic in its progress. An unusually fiery account of the scherzo keeps up the tension: I particularly liked the dramatic way Pappano handles the transition to the scherzo-reprise. Principal clarinetist Alessandro Carbonare is exemplary on the long and haunting solo in the slow movement, and the emotional build-up in the finale, OTT big tune and all, is for once entirely believable. It’s a live performance, and the whoop of audience applause at the end is entirely merited.
For once this apparently over-crafted and over-plush Symphony sounds the equal of the more imaginative Nos 1 and 3. The filler, a beautifully delicate account of Liadov’s Enchanted Lake, is also well worth having. Calum MacDonald