Classical Reissue Reviews

RACHMANINOV: Symphony No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 27; BERNSTEIN: Candide Ov. – Philharmonia Orch./London Sym. Orch./ Evegeny Svetlanov – ICA Classics

An epic reading, live, as a British ensemble sheds its native identity and achieves that spectacular Russian wind sound in its strings.

Published on January 11, 2013

RACHMANINOV: Symphony No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 27; BERNSTEIN: Candide Ov. – Philharmonia Orch./London Sym. Orch./ Evegeny Svetlanov – ICA Classics

RACHMANINOV: Symphony No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 27; BERNSTEIN: Candide Ov. – Philharmonia Orch./London Sym. Orch./ Evegeny Svetlanov – ICA Classics ICAC 5078, 63:56 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

For connoisseurs of the Rachmaninov E Minor Symphony, especially in its mostly uncut form, the great performance has been that with Kurt Sanderling and the Leningrad Philharmonic from 1956, with occasional rivals appearing by way of Gennady Rozhdestvensky or Leonard Slatkin. With the performance by the Philharmonia Orchestra of London under Evgeny Svetlanov (1928-2002) from Royal Festival Hall (15 March 1993), we suddenly find ourselves confronting an epic reading, live, as a British ensemble sheds its native identity and achieves that spectacular “wind sound” in its strings that seems to characterize the very soul of the Russian soil. Although Svetlanov does not take the first movement repeat, the breadth of his conception imposes the illusion of our having experienced all of the melodic content for an eternity.

The Rachmaninov E Minor (1908) embodies virtually every aspect of the composer’s idiosyncratic nostalgia, including his penchant for the Dies Irae sequence from the Requiem Mass, here built into the second movement. A synthesis of Russian chant’s znamenny or “sign” formulas and Wagner’s “unending melody” notions for Tristan, the first and third movements draw themselves out with lush flowing tropes which Svetlanov milks for their expansive architecture. The Adagio seems to take its cue from the slow movement of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, again fused to Rachmaninov’s (or Tchaikovsky’s) capacity for vocal cantilena. From the outset, the initial Largo motif that opens the score, Svetlanov accords the music a spaciousness that remains as taut as it does expansive. Michael White supplies the elegant clarinet solo, demanded Adagissimo. The Philharmonia trumpet section makes its presence felt in the glowing, unbuckled Allegro vivace finale, a sweeping yet entirely vocal concept whose colossal scale and heartfelt lyricism provide an enduring impact. The magnificent peroration elicits a wave, a torrent of appreciation from a rapt, nearly apoplectic audience.

The impish swirling interpretation of Bernstein’s Candide Overture, in all its gaudy athleticism, has us equally enthralled at the Edinburgh Festival (28 August 1978) with the London Symphony Orchestra. The mocking, flighty cross-rhythms that mark Bernstein’s breezy reaction to Voltaire find a natural exponent in Svetlanov, who took an equally irreverent approach to Kabalevsky’s Colas Breugnon.  Once more, the brash and brilliant coda invokes a controlled hysteria from a delighted crowd of music lovers.

—Gary Lemco




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