Wednesday, September 22, 2004

A Revised Recommendation of Rachmaninov Recordings (Really!)

A while back, I cited this set of Rachmaninov symphonies (Vladimir Ashkenazy conducting the Royal Concertbegbouw Orchestra) as being, for my purposes, definitive. Well, I'm just about ready to slightly revise that opinion: Mariss Jansons, conducting the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, is just as good. This judgment is still provisional, because I have not yet heard the recording of the First Symphony in Jansons's set, but his versions of both the Second and the Third are every bit as good as Ashkenazy's.

I find that too many conductors take too leisurely a pace with the first and third movements, and that they likewise tend to compensate by barreling through the last movement, often blasting right past the miraculous passage in which everything builds to a spectacular brass cadence before the chorale theme (the movement's second subject) is sounded for the last time. Jansons, a conductor with whom I'm generally unfamiliar, has a wonderful touch with this repertoire, and his orchestra plays with as much fire as I've heard in these two Russian symphonies where fire is an absolute must.

Here are links:

Symphony No. 1 in D-minor; Isle of the Dead

Symphony No. 2 in E-minor; Scherzo in D-minor; Vocalise (Op. 34, No. 14)

Symphony No. 3 in A-minor; Symphonic Dances

(Note: It may strike non-classical listeners, or classical "newbies", as strange to own multiple recordings of the same piece, but for in-depth exploration of classical music, it's almost essential to do so. Different conductors bring out different details in the works, emphasize different facets of the music, and generally form different emotional and artistic interpretations. If you come to love a work very deeply and to know it very well through a single recording, hearing another can open one's eyes to things in the same piece that one never knew were there. This is what makes classical music so exciting: you really can, in a very real sense, hear familiar works again for the first time.)

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