Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 2; Piano Concerto No. 3; Symphonic Dances

Paavo Berglund / Mariss Jansons / André Previn

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Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 2; Piano Concerto No. 3; Symphonic Dances Review

by Mike D. Brownell

This two-disc set from EMI offers listeners a solid foundation of Rachmaninov's symphonic literature. As with many collections that call upon existing recordings to combine into one anthology, the performance quality varies. Disc one opens with a moving, breathtaking interpretation of the Russian composer's Second Symphony performed by the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra under Mariss Jansons. After the stunning failure of his First Symphony, Rachmaninov switched gears considerably for his second, favoring a much more sweeping, romantic concept. Jansons' orchestra follows suit, sounding much less like a Russian orchestra and more like a Western European one, producing a sound aesthetic that will likely please most listeners. Disc one concludes with an infrequently performed filler piece, The Isle of the Dead, given an appropriately brooding performance by the London Symphony Orchestra and André Previn. The Third Piano Concerto starts off disc two, with Leif Ove Andsnes at the piano and Paavo Berglund leading the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra. The recorded sound quality of this live performance is more problematic than the exciting execution itself. The volume level is quite low, making listeners really crank it up to hear anything during soft sections, and the balance between piano and orchestra unduly favors the orchestra and is not sufficiently clear. EMI saves the best for last with the dazzling, dynamic 1974 recording of the Symphonic Dances, again with Previn and the LSO. With the possible exception of the Piano Concerto, this collection makes a fine introduction to Rachmaninov's orchestral works.

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