WORKS: Symphony No. 2
PERFORMER: Royal Scottish NO/Owain Arwel Hughes
CATALOGUE NO: CD-1279
In some respects, Owain Arwel Hughes is an ideal Rachmaninov interpreter. He takes the slow lyric burn of the Second Symphony very seriously, sustaining the introductory arch to perfection, and, by drawing phrases of weight and depth, transcends the sugary cliché to which the gestures of the Adagio have long been subject. Yet neither here nor in the Third Symphony, where some less than first-rate material cries out for more style and thrust, does Hughes ever allow his sleek big cats off the lead. Without a greater sense of forward momentum, who would really wish to hear the first-movement expositions again, or want the random fantasy of the Third’s finale to run on at length? Curiously, the ‘Youth Symphony’ movement of 1891, with its outrageous cribs from Tchaikovsky Four, has a more energetic helping hand. All the mature big tunes, though, need the kind of shape and drive we find in Rachmaninov’s own peerless 1939 performance of the Third. Of more volatile recent interpreters, Andrew Litton manages to combine both the languor and the edge.
As far as Hughes’s visions go, they’re assisted to the hilt by his excellent orchestra and the recording’s natural perspectives. Meaty rather than sensuous, especially in the Vocalise, the Scottish National strings are at least richly upholstered in symphonic climaxes by glorious, horn-banked vistas. Veteran principal clarinettist John Cushing turns in a wonderfully nuanced solo in the Second’s slow movement, and the woodwind throughout are luminously lit in every telling detail. Incidentally neither cover image, be it black-and-white Petersburg classicism or a New York skyscraper-scape, suits symphonies with so many roots in Muscovite orthodoxy, especially when Hughes stresses the archaic quality so broodingly. David Nice