Symphony No.2 in E minor, Op.27
Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Recorded 24-27 September 2009 in Orchestra Hall, Detroit
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: March 2010
CD No: NAXOS 8.572458
Duration: 61 minutes
Following his St Louis Symphony tapings for Vox, Leonard Slatkin is returning to Rachmaninov’s three symphonies and Symphonic Dances for a series of Naxos recordings that will also showcase Slatkin’s new and latest relationship, with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
Vocalise opens the disc, a few seconds of which is all that is required to recognise sensitive and sweetly warm string-playing; and a few seconds more is needed to appreciate a flexible and volatile approach that gets to the heart of Rachmaninov’s expression. There’s a sweet violin solo, presumably from Concertmaster Emmanuelle Boisvert, and contributions from the cor anglais player and clarinettist are no less distinguished, conductor and orchestra breathing and feeling as one.
With the symphony, one is gratified by Slatkin’s flowing re-think, and it’s even more pleasing that he now avoids the dubious timpani stroke on the final chord of the first movement; Rachmaninov intended that it should be double basses alone, and this imaginative scoring is here respected. (If you’re going to ‘add’ at this point, Semyon Bychkov’s apocalyptic bass drum stroke, Paris Orchestra/Philips, is shock-inducing as well as unforgettable!) Leading up to the low-end conclusion to the opening movement, Slatkin charts a sure and exhaustive course; even so maybe the rounding-up bars of the exposition (not repeated, to advantage) are slightly too wallowed in, and more incisive timpani would have been welcome in the development (such detail is cleaner later on) during which the glowering brass impresses, as does keeping something in reserve for climactic fortissimos.
The scherzo is a fiery and jubilant affair, the trio bristling along, and the following slow movement touches the heart from the first measures; once again, Slatkin’s sureness means that nothing is exaggerated or distended, and this Romantic music, aided by lovely liquid clarinet-playing, has an off-the-cuff but deeply considered directness, impulsive and emotionally edgy, and with a big heart when the sunset final bars arrive. Such spontaneity is enhanced by this being a live performance (a compilation of several, no doubt, applause retained after the symphony); and if the finale, given with exuberance (if not quite being the whirlwind that Alfred Wallenstein set down in Los Angeles), isn’t quite as articulate as it might be – and I would have welcomed more of the descending string run (rather overshadowed here by the rest of the orchestra) just before the ‘Rach-man-in-ov’ pay-off – this is a stirring and Slavic, rather than a Germanic, sub-Bruckner, account that stimulates on its own terms and whets the appetite for more Rachmaninov from Detroit.