Rachmaninoff: Symphony No. 1 in D minor; Caprice bohémien

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COMPOSERS: Rachmaninoff
WORKS: Symphony No. 1 in D minor; Caprice bohémien
PERFORMER: National SO of Ireland/Alexander Anissimov
CATALOGUE NO: 8.550806
Would it help to know more about the meaning of Rachmaninoff’s First Symphony? All we have to go on are the biblical inscription it shares with Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina – ‘Vengeance is mine: I will repay, saith the Lord’ – and the background of Rachmaninoff’s own infatuation with a married Anna, a fascinating lady of gypsy extraction. Anissimov only heightens the beautiful enigma in his tender loving care of the exotically inflected but infinitely sad love theme that runs through the work, with the rather withdrawn quality of the Irish strings emphasising introspection rather than passion. The finale’s programmatic and original clash of public ceremony and private tragedy is superbly handled; never has final, tam-tam laden twisting of the symphony’s vengeful idée fixe been more forcefully driven home. If there is a problem, it lies in the handling of the scherzo: Anissimov emphasises its dream-like quality at the expense of underlying tension.


Only with a conductor of stature such as this, though, could the Caprice Bohemien not outstay its welcome. It offers an interesting link via quotation with Aleko, gloomy outsider-hero among the gypsies of Rachmaninoff’s Pushkin-based graduation opera. In the weave of glittering surface and lugubrious brooding it shares with the finale of the symphony, its immediate successor, the flashing tziganery gets the upper hand with a brilliant final flourish. David Nice