Paavo Järvi

Rachmaninoff: Symphony No. 2; Dances from Aleko; Scherzo

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Sleek, solid, and professional, Paavo Järvi and the Cincinnati Symphony's 2007 recording of Rachmaninov's Second Symphony is a superbly executed mistake. In the past, Järvi and the Cincinnati had turned in some brilliant performances -- one remembers fondly their edgy but lyrical recording of the suites from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet -- and some eccentric performances -- one recalls with a shudder their strangely distorted Dvorák's "From the New World" Symphony. But despite the superlative ensemble playing of the Cincinnati and the complete conductorial control of Järvi, their interpretation of Rachmaninov's Second is simply wrong-headed. The lushest, sweetest, sexiest, and darkest of the late Russian Romantic symphonies composed after Tchaikovsky's Sixth, Rachmaninov's Second can in the right performance be terrifically thrilling, tremendously exciting, and undeniably satisfying. But Järvi and the Cincinnati trim the lushness, cut the sweetness, mute the sexiness, and so thoroughly clarify and brighten the darkly radiant colors that the work sounds less like Rachmaninov and more like one of the lesser French late Romantic symphonists: Dukas, say, or d'Indy. For a great Rachmaninov Second, try the juicy Evgeny Svetlanov/Bolshoi Theater recording or either of the André Previn/LSO recordings, the urgent RCA or the ardent EMI. Järvi and the Cincinnati's inclusion of brisk but impersonal readings of Rachmaninov's uncharacteristic Scherzo plus the "Woman's Dance" and "Men's Dance" from Rachmaninov's fiery opera Aleko adds nothing but more time to the disc. Telarc's digital sound is clean and direct, but not especially present.

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