Rachmaninov: Symphonic Dances; Caprice bohémien; Preludes, Opp. 23/5 & 3/2 (orch. Cailliet)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Rachmaninov
LABELS: CBC
WORKS: Symphonic Dances; Caprice bohémien; Preludes, Opp. 23/5 & 3/2 (orch. Cailliet)
PERFORMER: Vancouver SO/Sergiu Comissiona
CATALOGUE NO: SMCD 5143 DDD
Two very different views of the Symphonic Dances – both are very good, but they have considerable competition. Gardiner, not usually associated with such heady Romanticism, brings great power and excitement to this live recording. His central Waltz movement is a brightly coloured, joyful occasion and his finale thunders along, working up to a really thrilling climax. There is drama aplenty, but without Jansons’s emotional depth (EMI – my preferred modern recording). The DG sound is close and very bright.

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By contrast, the CBC sound-stage is more softly lit and mellow, which suits Comissiona’s more relaxed reading, full of yearning and nostalgia. His tempi are slow, yet his direction is firm. The Vancouver woodwinds are especially fine, with delectable phrasing and superb ensemble. Comissiona’s ballroom is all misty pastels, the dancers more ethereal. The finale is especially atmospheric, the midnight setting really eerie.

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Gardiner’s Taras Bulba approaches Mackerras’s magnificent Vienna Philharmonic performance (Decca). The finale, in particular, has great excitement and nobility. Comissiona’s fill-ups, in themselves, disappoint: the transcriptions, not by Rachmaninov, of his G minor and C sharp minor preludes are unsympathetic and the Caprice is a rather inflated early piece.