The place to start is at the end of the disc, where Liadov’s magically evocative The Enchanted Lake can be found and which then flows well into the brooding opening bars of the Rachmaninov Symphony. In the Liadov, Andrew Litton and the Bergen Philharmonic paint lovely dulcet colours (the CD cover of Sunset is very complementary) and reveal his picturesque expression of something timeless and mysterious.
The Rachmaninov is given a glorious performance, superbly played and recorded. Litton avoids wallowing, which allows him to observe the first-movement exposition repeat without over-stretching the music’s luxury, and he releases a storm of passion in the development section; fortunately, come the coda, he doesn’t add anything to the ‘solo’ double basses that have the last word: solecisms at this point can include timpani (the most usual addition), bass drum (Bychkov in Paris) or tuba (Kurt Sanderling). It beggars belief! Just trust the composer.
From Litton, the Scherzo is festive without haste, expressively turned with real soul, and the dynamism and incisiveness of the forceful central section is impressive. The Adagio slow movement is here particularly expansive, and with a bouquet to Christian Stene for his shapely and sensitive clarinet solo that heralds a serene unfolding of confiding expression, the sun-going-down coda made especially poignant.
The Finale is given weighty treatment (to counterbalance the generous first movement), propulsive but with occasion on its side for lucid detailing and the integration of episodes, always considered and persuasive. The peroration near the very end of the Symphony is stirring in its majesty (some may find it too Hollywood, but my god it’s thrilling) and as the finishing post is reached the violins can be properly heard, a rare treat, matched by few, such as Edo de Waart (his London Philharmonic version) and David Zinman.
Overall, Litton’s ‘Rach 2’ goes on the top recommendation list, and is in direct competition coupling-wise with Antonio Pappano (EMI/Warner Classics). I’d be happy with either and even more content with both, and others.