Having thoroughly enjoyed Vladimir Jurowski's discs of Prokofiev and Shostakovich symphonies (for PentaTone Classiscs) I thought I'd take a closer look at his other recordings, which, on the whole, I find to be very deeply felt as well as beautifully executed. There is great imagination as well as great attention to detail to be found in this young Russian maestro, and I congratulate my island-EU-cousins on landing this fine catch of a conductor to lead the sumptuous LPO.
This disc represents Jurowski's first recording of Rachmaninov, and in both works, separated in the composer's oeuvre by no less than thirty-one years and yet so well suited for each other, he goes straight to the heart of the matter, which to me remains the apotheosis of emotion and a prevailing aristocratic elegance so essential to Rachmaninov. There is a silky smoothness to the "Isle of the Dead" that brings out the majesty as well as the eerie calm of the boating-theme, and though the composer once stated (to Stokowski, I think) that this and the more belligerent center-theme should contrast like "a struggle of life and death", it is really nice to experience the fighting done without the biting and hair-pulling so common in other recordings. Actually I find myself hard put to it to propose a version to rival this one for the top spot. I will, however, after due consideration put forward the last recording (1995) of that astute interpreter of the Russian romantics Evgeny Svetlanov (Warner Music) for consideration, though it is of course slightly less well recorded. Ashkenazy and Maazel can't seriously compete on this level.
Rachmaninov was a master orchestrator, and though the Symphonic Dances started out as a work for two pianos the orchestra version never fails to bring the house down. The sweep of Jurowski's conducting draws out the dance element very effectively, and the noon-evening-midnight progression in atmosphere is brought home with great clarity in this recording. Only one fly (more of a gnat, really) in the ointment: I would have liked a bit more edge to the final dance with its death knell and "dies irae"-motive, though I freely admit the piece - the last Rachmaninov was to complete - probably wasn't composed in any heightened sense of mortality, as his fatal cancer illness wasn't diagnosed until two years later. In the dances Pletnev and his fine Russian National Orchestra traverse the obstacles with ease (if a tad lumbering) and to great effect, and his recording on DG may serve well for comparison with the present one. Pletnev has a superb feeling for Rachmaninov, and (on another disc, unfortunately) presides over one of the finest interpretations available of the much maligned first symphony, in my opinion the greatest of the three - four, if you include the "Youth" symphony of 1891. Bychkov and his Colone-based orchestra are also very fine indeed, and should rightly share the gold with Jurowski.
Sad to say, I am not the proud owner of the equipment necessary to play the SACD layer of this disc, and as such I can't comment on its possible shortcommings. The ordinary CD-sound is fine and nicely detailed (especially for a live-recording), and, being obviously less technically founded than my co-reviewer, I have to say I found the acoustics of the recording to be more than adequate. The dynamic breadth of the orchestra is in places positively impressive.Read more ›
The second SACD from LPO is even better than the first one (Shostakovich). There are much less non musical noises and, appropriately, Jarowski produces a completely different orchestral texture than Masur. LPO sounds like big lump of sound in The Isle of the Dead, building up slowly towards the central climax and dropping naturally back to the opening march rhythm, still full of tension and suspense. But in the Symphonic Dances the orchestra shines in much better light than with Masur.
Symphonic dances are meant to be an orchestral showpiece, and LPO players are top notch. Not just secure and accurate, they shade and paint every section and movement appropriately and the piece as a whole is bursting with energy. Jarowski keeps his players at the edges of their seats and manages to produce a distinct Slavic feel throughout, especially in the second movement making the waltz sounding like homage to Tchaikovsky. Even if this is the first available recording of these two pieces on SACD in Europe, it is a clear first choice.
The recording serves them well too. Thanks to the shorter timing LF channel is added, but it is still 4.1. Similar to the Shostakovich disc, hall acoustics are neutralised, but there are no occasional gaps in the middle. Just a bit of depth and perspective is missing (the other disc is slightly better in that respect), this one sounds like a good stereo recording even when listened in MC and it is recorded a bit closer. Lower range is distinct and solid, but the high strings in forte suffer from some shrillness, due to lack of space around them. All things concerned, it is a solid 4 star recording.
These recordings are made few months apart from their Shostakovich recordings and it is interesting to compare how orchestra responds differently to different conductors. Any reservations I had for recommending Shostakovich's disc are gone here, with all the qualities of capturing a live event preserved. The density and richness of music inspired not just performers, but will inspire the listeners too to come back to this recording over and over again.Read more ›