Rachmaninoff: Symphony No. 2 (CD review)

Also, Dances from Aleko; Scherzo in D minor. Paavo Jarvi, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.  Telarc CD-80670.

Paavo Jarvi’s Telarc releases have been somewhat hit-and-miss with me, but this one I enjoyed quite a lot. Was there ever a more romantic and more melancholy piece of music than Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony? It’s no wonder Tchaikovsky’s took a liking to the younger composer’s music early on; Rachmaninoff (or Rachmaninov) was a natural successor to Tchaikovsky’s brand of Romanticism, carrying it well into the twentieth century. Maestro Jarvi does well by the score.

Jarvi takes the big, lengthy opening movement at a brisker pace than I’m used to with my favored Andre Previn (EMI) recording, but Jarvi maintains the slightly despondent opening mood nicely until the more starry-eyed subject kicks in. The second movement Scherzo is appropriately extrovert, filled with the kinds of lush melodies for which Rachmaninoff is known.

Then it’s on to the famous Adagio and its celebrated love theme, and the Finale, which always seems to me from some other symphony altogether. No, Jarvi doesn’t quite express the same degree of passion or the same sense of longing that Previn conveys, but it’s close. Moreover, I liked Jarvi’s account somewhat better than I liked Jesus Lopez-Cobos’s rendition with this same Cincinnati Orchestra on Telarc just a few years earlier. In addition, it’s nice to have the two dances from Aleko as well as the little Scherzo in D minor along for the ride.

Sonically, there is nothing to complain about, either. The Telarc recording is exemplary in almost every way, but most especially in its tonal balance, imaging, and stereo spread. By comparison, the 1973 Previn disc still sounds wonderful, but this 2006 Jarvi disc almost equals it for fullness, breadth, and depth. In other words, Jarvi joins a select company of Rachmaninoff conductors worthy of first-choice consideration. Of course, the Previn is cheaper, but you knew that.

Incidentally, for those people with SACD playback capability, the folks at Telarc also make their disc available in an SACD hybrid multichannel format.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa