Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Op. 27

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Rachmaninov
LABELS: LSO Live
WORKS: Symphony No. 2
PERFORMER: London SO/Valery Gergiev
CATALOGUE NO: LSO 0677 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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If and when Valery Gergiev returns to Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony with the LSO, it could be a more rounded performance than this one, which sounds as much an interpretation-in-the-making as many instalments in his far too rushed Mahler cycle.

Unfortunately the posterity of CD is there to tell us that not enough has yet taken shape. The LSO strings’ vibrato in conjunction with an unusually tentative sense of free phrasing needs time to settle, as even the opening bars tell us.

And while Gergiev never hits a climax too soon, he can sometimes seem to take an awfully long time in getting there.If there’s a substitute for the classic Ormandy free flow, it’s Litton’s much more lustrous slow burn (currently unavailable, but the classic Previn account will do).

Here, though, the lyrical themes in the second and fourth movements sound too much like over-leisurely intrusions. Fine, though, for the one in the opening Allegro moderato to take its time and to be heard twice as Gergiev gives us the exposition repeat; I like both the restful aftermath and the melody’s sleepy return after the movement’s central crisis. A pity Gergiev has to round it all off with the timpani thwack (as did Svetlanov in his performances) that, as far as my score tells me, Rachmaninov never wrote.

While the top-notch sound team have been doing what they can with Barbican acoustics in earlier LSO Live instalments, this one’s far too dry and ungiving to support such a glowing score.

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Andrew Marriner’s slow-movement clarinet solo needs recorded sheen and the finale, especially, with the strings sounding tired, has a deplorable lack of glitter around it, though the end finally ignites. David Nice