Rachmaninoff: Symphony No. 2 in E minor; Vocalise

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COMPOSERS: Rachmaninoff
LABELS: Telarc
WORKS: Symphony No. 2 in E minor; Vocalise
PERFORMER: Cincinnati SO/Jesús López-Cobos
CATALOGUE NO: CD-80543
Two new recordings of Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony, each omitting the first movement’s exposition repeat, and making the regular cuts in the finale. Alexander Anissimov’s Naxos account lingers nostalgically over lyrical episodes (the scherzo’s second theme, for example, is particularly long-breathed here) in a recording that’s firmer at the bottom end than you’d expect from Dublin’s airy National Concert Hall. Telarc’s engineering for López-Cobos is up to the audiophile label’s regular standards of excellence, but the performance is a workaday affair, and the playing of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra lacks the fine attention to detail of its Irish rival, irrespective of its more fulsome and glamorous string sound.

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Anissimov impressed in Rachmaninoff’s ill-starred First Symphony, and now takes a similarly dark-hued and craggy approach in the Second, where he’s especially skilful in highlighting its recurring cyclic elements. Interestingly, there’s a mere two seconds between Anissimov and López-Cobos in the vast opening movement, but Anissimov is always the more convincing. And how hauntingly lovely is the great clarinet solo of the Adagio in the Naxos version; the uncredited Irish player moulds and inflects the passage as suavely as did Jack Brymer for Previn. Both new versions bring assured, effective readings of the finale, though the Symphony rarely falters here. Anissimov’s Naxos account is an exceptional bargain, not that it seriously challenges André Previn’s incomparable 1973 EMI recording (complete and uncut), one of the enduring legends of his glory days with the LSO, and still sounding as majestic as ever. Michael Jameson