LABELS: LSO Live
ALBUM TITLE: Rachmaninov * Balakirev
WORKS: Rachmaninov Symphony No. 1 Balakirev Tamara
PERFORMER: LSO/Valery Gergiev
CATALOGUE NO: LSO 0784
This perhaps unexpected coupling is in fact highly appropriate. Though Rachmaninov was taught by two of Tchaikovsky’s closest colleagues, Arensky and Taneyev, and admired by the great man himself, his earliest orchestral works were yet more clearly influenced by the ‘Mighty Handful’, particularly by Balakirev. There are echoes from Tamara in Rachmaninov’s The Rock and in the finale of his First Symphony.
The LSO plays, as always, splendidly for Valery Gergiev. The general excellence and detail of their performance is remarkable since it appears to have been recorded in a single live concert, with Rachmaninov’s symphony – placed first on the CD – originally the final item: hence the wind and brass’s ever so slightly sour tuning in the finale’s strutting march theme. Compared to Vladimir Ashkenazy and the RPO’s account (Decca), Gergiev’s speeds are often on the ponderous side; yet his characterisation from the Symphony’s baleful opening is such that one’s attention is held – save, perhaps, in the strings’ rather listless account of the first movement’s second subject, enervated by Gergiev’s too-slow tempo. But with the following fugue, Gergiev galvanises his players into a vigorous and lively account.
Tamara is, if anything, even more fast and furious, Gergiev clearly identifying with its fiery Caucasian character. A pity, though, that one of the score’s gentler masterstrokes, Balakirev’s depiction with flutes and eddying strings of the moonlit-dappled river, into which Tamara finally casts her lover’s body, is rather insensitively rushed.