Symphony No. 2 in E minor
London Symphony Orchestra/Simon Rattle
LSO Live LSO 0851 58:50 mins
The LSO has a particularly distinguished track record when it comes to recordings of Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony. Its pioneering 1973 account of the uncut score conducted by André Previn remains a classic, as does Gennady Rozhdestvensky’s more brooding account from 1988. In the 21st century, LSO Live has also given us a powerful and much praised account under Valery Gergiev made in 2008. But I think the present recording, taken from a concert given in 2019, is even better. Not only does it feature superior orchestral playing, but Rattle’s wonderfully fluid approach, his magisterial control of rubato and keen sensitivity to all the different colours in this opulently scored work all combine to produce an interpretation that keeps you engaged from the first bar to last.
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Rattle shows a firm grip of the symphonic narrative, knowing exactly where to be reflective as in the latter stages of the second subject in the first movement, or more impetuous as in the thrilling fleet-of-foot activity of the first movement’s development section, or the demonic central portion of the Scherzo. Perhaps the opening passage of the Finale could have been even more exuberant, though this loss of energy is relatively short-lived and the closing section of the symphony is tremendously exciting.
Most memorable of all is the breathtakingly beautiful account of the Adagio. The gorgeously nuanced clarinet solo from Chris Richards, as well as some impassioned string playing somehow make you forget the obvious disadvantages of hearing such music in the cruelly dry acoustics of the Barbican.