Sergey Rachmaninov

Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Op. 27

    Description by Robert Cummings

    By 1906, the time when Rachmaninov began work of the Second Symphony, he had become not only a well-known pianist and conductor, but a composer of considerable renown. Ten years before, however, the abject failure of his First Symphony had robbed him of his confidence and plunged him into a dark depression. Unable to compose for the next three years, he finally sought the help of Dr. Nicolai Dahl at the behest of relatives. Dahl used the then-new technique of hypnotism, which rapidly restored the composer's confidence. Shortly after his therapeutic sessions with Dahl, Rachmaninov produced his popular Second Piano Concerto. It must have been with some trepidation, though, that he started work on the Second Symphony, memories of the fate of the First undoubtedly still lingering in his mind.

    Indeed, after composing the first draft of this symphony in 1906-1907, Rachmaninov declared his dissatisfaction with it; he would remark that it was not in his nature to compose symphonies. Nevertheless, he forced himself to rework the piece, and on February 8, 1908, he led the first performance in St. Petersburg. It was enthusiastically received, and by the end of the year, Rachmaninov was awarded the Glinka prize for his new work.

    The Symphony opens with a brooding Largo introduction, drenched in mystery and ethereality; it features a motto theme that returns in various guises throughout the symphony. The agitated main theme (Allegro moderato) is followed by an alternate, more ecstatic melody, and then a rather stormy development section. The movement is quite long, especially when -- as is now the practice -- the exposition repeat is taken.

    The second movement Scherzo offers a vigorous theme of seemingly brighter mood than that of most of the music in the opening panel. Yet, it is derived from the Dies irae theme, used in the Roman Catholic mass for the dead -- a theme which Rachmaninov used in almost every major composition he wrote. There is a lovely alternate melody, which is related to the motto appearing in the symphony's introduction.

    The third movement (Adagio) opens a with a descending theme on strings, one of the composer's loveliest and most memorable creations. There follows an equally attractive melody on clarinet and another for violins and oboe. While to many this movement represents impassioned love music, to others it is profoundly meditative in its warm religiosity. No program was ever attached to the movement or to the Symphony by the composer.

    The Allegro vivace finale is happy and triumphant in its luminous main theme, and features a lushly orchestrated, beautiful alternate melody, similar in its ecstatic demeanor to several from the preceding movements. The coda brings on an all-conquering triumphant ending, resolving any lingering doubts spawned by the work's earlier darker elements.

    A typical performance of the complete version of the Second Symphony, first movement repeat included, lasts about an hour. Many recordings up to the 1970s, and even a few years beyond, included cuts, eliminating as much as 20 minutes from the score. Rachmaninov himself had been convinced in the early '30s to make cuts in the work, and in the end sanctioned nearly 20 in all. Most performances and recordings of the work today are faithful to Rachmaninov's original score.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Largo - Allegro moderato
    2. Allegro molto
    3. Adagio
    4. Allegro vivace

    Appears On

    Year Title / Performer Label / Catalog # AllMusic Rating
    2021
    BIS
    BIS 2512
    2018
    LSO Live
    LSO 0816
    2018
    Decca / Eloquence
    2018
    Signum Classics
    SIGCD 530
    2018
    Menuetto Classics
    null
    2017
    Capriccio Records
    C 8010
    2016
    Deutsche Grammophon
    002894795516
    2016
    Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler
    PH 13037
    2016
    RCO Live
    RCO 16004
    2016
    CuGate Classics
    CGC 010
    2015
    Cugate Classics
    CUG 1
    2015
    RCO
    RCO 15002
    2015
    Alto
    MCSCD 1260
    2015
    BIS
    BIS 2071
    2015
    Oehms Classics
    OC 441
    2015
    Dreyer-Gaido
    DGCD 21090
    2015
    Alto / Musical Concepts
    MCSCD 6005
    2014
    Deutsche Grammophon
    2014
    Wienerworld
    01367
    2014
    Warner Classics
    2564627827
    2014
    Deutsche Grammophon
    4793631
    2014
    Decca
    4786765
    2013
    Entertainment Group
    13806
    2013
    Entertainment Group
    14161
    2013
    Entertainment Group
    14162
    2013
    Melodiya
    MYD 1002090
    2013
    Deutsche Grammophon
    4785697
    2013
    Deutsche Grammophon
    2012
    Various Artists
    Naxos
    8501059
    2012
    ABC Classics
    ABC 4764842
    2012
    Entertainment Group
    12204
    2012
    Warner Classics
    2012
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    5099991547
    2012
    Concerto / Zebralution
    2011
    EMI Classics
    2011
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    5099994946
    2011
    Deutsche Grammophon
    4779505
    2011
    Deutsche Grammophon
    2011
    Decca
    2011
    Newton Classics
    8802082
    2011
    Royal Philharmonic Orchestra / RPO
    RPOSP 031
    2011
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    5099908528926
    2011
    Warner Classics
    2010
    Newton Classics
    8802021
    2010
    Exton
    00018
    2010
    LSO Live
    LSO 0677
    2010
    Naxos
    8572458
    2010
    RPO
    28220
    2010
    Decca
    2010
    Chandos
    10589
    2009
    EMI Classics
    5099926796
    2009
    Membran
    231755
    2009
    Denon Records
    2009
    Denon Records
    00795041941824
    2009
    BIS
    1712
    2009
    EMI Classics
    2009
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    5099923761
    2009
    Alto
    1031
    2009
    Denon Records
    2009
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    5099969759
    2008
    RCO Live
    08005
    2008
    Brilliant Classics
    8818
    2008
    Deutsche Grammophon
    445590
    2008
    Svetlanov
    4981
    2008
    Cascavelle
    3108
    2008
    Chandos
    66062
    2008
    PentaTone Classics
    5186153
    2008
    Sony Classical Essential Classics
    727987
    2007
    Telarc Distribution
    60670
    2007
    Telarc Distribution
    80670
    2007
    BIS
    1665/66
    2007
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    5099950088
    2007
    EMI Classics
    2007
    Apex
    2007
    Arthaus Musik
    101439
    2007
    Melodiya
    1000142
    2007
    Decca
    4758548
    2006
    Exton
    00156
    2006
    Audite
    92558
    2006
    Canal Grande
    6015
    2005
    Erato
    2005
    EMI Classics
    85075
    2005
    EMI Classics
    2005
    EMI Classics
    2005
    Nimbus
    9003
    2004
    Channel Classics
    21604
    2004
    Channel Classics
    21698
    2003
    EMI Music Distribution
    75959
    2003
    Tim
    220828
    2003
    Avie
    0022
    2002
    EMI Music Distribution
    75127
    2002
    Telarc Distribution
    80113
    2002
    Angelok 1
    9929
    2002
    EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics
    7243575510
    2002
    Capriccio Records
    51108
    2002
    BIS
    1279
    2002
    EMI Music Distribution
    575565
    2001
    Telarc Distribution
    80543
    2001
    Naxos
    8 554230
    2001
    Relief
    CR 991062
    2001
    Naxos
    8 505177
    2000
    Music & Arts
    4769
    2000
    Deutsche Grammophon
    469178
    2000
    Arsis
    99032
    2000
    Boheme Music
    3
    2000
    Tring
    052
    1999
    EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics
    7243573292
    1999
    EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics
    7243566997
    1998
    Chandos
    9665
    1998
    Intersound
    2822
    1998
    London
    455798
    1998
    Nimbus
    1761
    1998
    Deutsche Grammophon
    449767
    1997
    Point Classics
    265099
    1997
    EMI Music Distribution
    66554
    1997
    London
    448116
    1997
    Sony Music Distribution
    63257
    1997
    EMI Music Distribution
    569776-2
    1996
    Mercury
    434368
    1996
    Melodiya
    40064
    1995
    Infinity Digital
    64559
    1995
    London
    4406042
    1995
    Infinity Digital
    61991
    1994
    Philips
    438864
    1994
    Decca
    1994
    RCA
    61281
    1994
    EMI Music Distribution
    55140
    1994
    Naxos
    550272
    1994
    Deutsche Grammophon
    439888
    1994
    Philips
    438724
    1994
    RCA
    68022
    1993
    Virgin / Virgin Classics
    59279
    1993
    ASV
    CDQS6107
    1993
    IMP Classics
    904
    1993
    Music & Arts
    769
    1993
    EMI Music Distribution
    64530
    1993
    Philips
    438383
    1993
    Philips
    1992
    Telarc Distribution
    80312
    1992
    Chandos
    8520
    1992
    Nimbus
    5322
    1992
    Vox
    5034
    1992
    Delos
    3071
    1991
    Philips
    432101
    1989
    RCA
    60132
    Angel Records
    567247-2
    Nickson
    1006
    Tim
    220832
    Vox
    8183
    CBS Records
    45678
    EMI Music Distribution
    66280
    Deutsche Grammophon
    419314
    Philharmonia of the Nations
    36
    Davidoff Classic
    07
    Warner Music
    Capriccio Records
    10306
    Virgin
    562037
    BBC Music Magazine
    127
    Decca
    4000812
    EMI Music Distribution
    69828
    Intersound
    3449
    EMI Music Distribution
    69029
    Teldec
    0630-18958-2
    Classical Records
    009
    Moscow Studio Archives
    20002
    As Disc
    524
    London
    400081
    Aurophon Records
    31462
    BBC Music
    127
    Sony Music Distribution
    57650
    Virgin
    59548
    Collins Records
    1054
    Nimbus
    NI1749
    Stradivari
    6122
    RCA
    60791
    LYS
    375