Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 2 (SACD review)

 Also, Rimsky-Korsakov: Capriccio Espagnol. Edo de Waart, Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. PentaTone Classics SACD PTC 5186 153.

The Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1945) was among the last of the great Romantics, although, ironically, his earliest critics accused him of being too "modern." Be that as it may, his Second Symphony can easily take its place alongside the symphonies of Tchaikovsky, probably even out-romanticizing the older man. Today, Rachmaninov gets the cold shoulder from critics who consider him too glamorous, too light, too frothy, too sentimental, too frilly, too Hollywood. Take him or leave him, though, his Symphony No. 2 continues to be one of the most popular pieces of classical music ever written.

While Philips recorded Edo de Waart's 1976 performance with the Rotterdam Philharmonic in four-channel quadraphonics, they released it only in two-channel stereo. Then it disappeared relatively quickly. PentaTone resurrected it on a hybrid SACD in its original multichannel format as well as super-analogue stereo and regular stereo.  So it will play on ordinary CD players as well as SACD players.

De Waart's interpretation of the Second Symphony is fine, but alongside the very best recordings, like those from Andre Previn and the LSO (EMI), Mikhail Pletnev and the Russian National Orchestra (DG), or Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra (Sony), it seems rather too straightforward, too matter-of-fact. It's a somewhat quick-paced reading that misses some of the very Romanticism for which people know the work. This doesn't make a bad performance by any means, and, in fact, it may appeal to the work's critics since it shears the symphony of some of its more flamboyantly starry-eyed characteristics. On the other hand, de Waart directs the companion piece on the disc, Rimsky-Korsakov's Capriccio Espagnol, just as vigorously yet maintains a splendid atmosphere, color, and excitement.

The PentaTone sound in stereo, regular or SACD, is slightly thin and a bit forward in the mid highs, which seems the opposite of the full, warm acoustics needed, especially to convey Rachmaninov's expressive imagination. Still, the sound may be in keeping with de Waart's vision of the piece, so I suppose all is well.

JJP

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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.

Mission Statement

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