Symphony No.2 in E minor, Op.27
Candide – Overture
Philharmonia Orchestra [Rachmaninov]
London Symphony Orchestra
Rachmaninov recorded 15 March 1993 (sic) in Royal Festival Hall, London; Bernstein 28 August 1978 in Usher Hall, Edinburgh
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: December 2012
CD No: ICA CLASSICS ICAC 5078
Duration: 64 minutes
The exuberant Overture to Candide is placed last on the disc, music one senses that Evgeny Svetlanov (1928-2002) was not wholly indentified with and quite happy to let the LSO swing and scintillate on its own terms, if not without shakiness and inaccuracies during a bright and breezy account; the semicolon at 3’59” is all Svetlanov’s though. But, what the booklet note does not reveal is that Svetlanov was present in André Previn’s stead, for two Edinburgh Festival concerts that included Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazde and, with Alfred Brendel, Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto. Svetlanov had agreed to take Previn’s programmes exactly as published.
Moving forward to 15 March 1993, but in fact the date of the concert was the 14th, verified to me by the Philharmonia Orchestra and also including Beethoven’s Triple Concerto (with Olli Mustonen, Joshua Bell and Steven Isserlis), as BBC-transmitted on the 15th, we find Svetlanov luxuriating in Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony, vividly detailed and pulsating with emotion. That said, the slow introduction, for all that the tempo-marking is Largo, seems sluggish, although there is plenty of flexibility, power and passion in the main Allegro; sadly, Svetlanov (like some other conductors) succumbs to adding an unsolicited and crass timpani stroke to the final chord. The scherzo is quite deliberately paced, crisply articulated, the slower music milked for all it is worth, which is a lot, and very affectingly. Svetlanov gives the Adagio plenty of time and rumination, deeply expressive, the Philharmonia musicians following every rubato with dedication, and searchingly eloquent in the coda. The finale, measured and lingering, hangs fire a little, although Svetlanov’s foot-stamp on the podium (at 6’01”) is enough to wake the dead; from there the music takes wing to a glorious outpouring and an adrenaline-fuelled acceleration to the finishing post.
For this listener, whatever the many merits of this performance, it fails to erase memories of a slightly earlier account that Svetlanov and the Philharmonia Orchestra had given, also Royal Festival Hall, on 1 December 1991, which recollection recalls as being simply remarkable and sustained as a whole (and no doubt intensified through ‘being there’), and which had opened with an electrifying rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture, after which the musicians applauded Svetlanov as if it were the end of the concert. (In between, Andrei Gavrilov played Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No.1.) That RFH evening was not recorded, alas. The reproduction of the present Rachmaninov is somewhat drained of warmth, strident at times and bass deficient, all the things, only worse, that the Royal Festival Hall pre-refurbishment was often accused of being; and the violins are somewhat recessed (not the trumpets though!), which was (is) not a RFH characteristic – and probably a consequence of the BBC’s engineering. Yet, shaped by the charismatic Svetlanov, the performance yields a vitality, longing and intensity that certainly make for an involving and rewarding experience.