WORKS: Symphony No. 2 in E minor; The Rock
PERFORMER: Russian National Orchestra/Mikhail Pletnev
CATALOGUE NO: 439 888-2 DDD
This is deservedly the most popular of Rachmaninov’s symphonies. After the disastrous premiere of the first, which is I fragmentary and modernist in construction, he endowed the second with an endless stream of lush, Romantic melodies. And he managed to do all that within the framework of a handful of themes that hold the symphony together.
Of these three performances, the clear favourite on every count is Jansons with the St Petersburg Philharmonic. The opening bars simmer with expectation. The huge expanse of the first movement unfolds with theatrical splendour. There are some rough edges here and there but it all adds to the excitement. The Adagio sings with monumental sadness. You might think it overblown, excessively weepy, but with music like this there seems little point in restraint. The Kirov Orchestra sounds very flat by comparison. Gergiev repeats the exposition in the first movement which threatens to unbalance the architecture of the whole symphony. It also means that there is no room for a filler on the disc, which makes it rather bad value. His slow movement has gravitas but no feeling. The fledgling Russian National Orchestra, under
Pletnev, is briskly matter-of-fact but the sound is homogeneous and rather bland. It is curious that Jansons, the only non-Russian, should be the one who most easily expresses the epic nature of Russian tragedy that pervades this music. Christopher Lambton