Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 2

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Rachmaninov
LABELS: Avie
WORKS: Symphony No. 2
PERFORMER: Sinfonia Varsovia/José Cura
CATALOGUE NO: AV 0022
Anyone expecting the indiscriminate emotional outpourings of Cura the tenor from his recorded debut as a symphonic conductor will be either disappointed or pleasantly surprised, according to taste. His way with Rachmaninov’s string of effusive melodies is mostly disciplined and fast-moving and shows awareness of their role in the larger scheme. The first-movement exposition bowls along compellingly enough to merit its full repeat here; the scherzo – where the molto cantabile theme does, admittedly, billow more than the others – is as bright and articulate as the finale; and the now-clichéd lovesong contours of the slow movement retain a certain freshness.

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What fails to win this Rachmaninov 2 a place anywhere near the sun, sadly, is the characterless playing of the Sinfonia Varsovia; what sinks it is the lamentable recording. The violins, it’s true, don’t seem to have much personality, but it’s hard to tell when the upfront sound blows them out of all proportion. It says much for Cura’s natural balancing that some of the woodwind counterpoints do manage to tell alongside the big tunes; but the sonic inflation can only lead to distortion and congestion in the last two movements – which is a special pity when Cura seems to be cutting a fine dash in the finale’s Orthodox festival. Since he features not only as the graphic designer of the insert, which gives plenty of images but no notes to speak of, but also as the recording producer, it’s hard to see him as the victim in all this. Better luck – and better judgement – next time perhaps. David Nice