Rachmaninov: Symphonic Dances; The Isle of the Dead; The Rock

Vasily Petrenko / Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra

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Rachmaninov: Symphonic Dances; The Isle of the Dead; The Rock Review

by James Leonard

These may not be the greatest performances of these three Rachmaninov works ever recorded, but they are very close. Some might point to Eugene Ormandy's smoothly seductive recording of the Symphonic Dances, or Fritz Reiner's soul-smashing recording of The Isle of the Dead, or Evgeny Svetlanov's heartbreaking recording of The Rock. Nonetheless, Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic deliver extremely well-played performances of extraordinary energy, soul, and dedication. Though not the best orchestra in England, the Liverpool orchestra is still quite fine, and more than up to the demands of these works both individually -- for example, the saxophone solo in the central portion of the first Symphonic Dance or the flute solo that opens The Rock -- and collectively -- the surging rhythms and gargantuan chords at the climax of The Isle of the Dead, for instance. While Petrenko is not yet an Ormandy, Reiner, or Svetlanov, he is well on his way, with confidently assured readings that bring out the power and pathos of these works without succumbing to either brutality or bathos. Avie's digital sound, though clear enough, doesn't have sufficient impact, but the performances almost overcome that deficiency.

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