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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A sound spectacular - and the interpretations are pretty impressive, too, 19 Jan 2010
By 
Ralph Moore "Ralph operaphile" (Bishop's Stortford, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Rachmaninov: Symphonic Dances & The Isle of the Dead Op. 29 (Audio CD)
A recent BBC Radio 3 "CD Review" broadcast selected the well-known Ashkenazy/Concertgebouw account as its recommended recording and did not even mention this Naxos disc. Having such good memories of it, I was prompted to do a direct comparison and was not exactly amazed to discover that Batiz and the RPO were as good I had remembered. Not that that there is anything wrong with the Ashkenazy disc - far from it - but Naxos presents several distinct advantages: first, the quality of sound. This is a demonstration disc with superb engineering by Brian B Culverhouse; the depth and crispness of the sonics makes the perfectly adequate Decca disc sound faded and fuzzy. Rachmaminov uses dense orchestral textures which can easily be submerged - not here. Secondly, for me Batiz's slightly more deliberate tempo in the centre-piece, "The Isle of the Dead", in combination with his subtle anticipation of the first beat in those oddly disconcerting 5/8 bars, create far more tension and menace than Ashkenazy's more restrained beat. Even though Batiz takes two minutes longer, there is more of a sense of inexorable doom in his reading - and the climaxes, too, only partly by virtue of the superior sound, pack more punch. The third factor concerns the performance of the "Symphonic Dances"; here the honours are more even, as although I prefer Batiz in the first two movements, there is no doubt that Ashkenazy's fleetness and delicacy are more appealing in the third movement Allegro vivace. The RPO need fear no comparison with the Concertgebouw; they sound just as virtuosic. Finally, of course, this Naxos disc is available at super-bargain price - very little indeed on Amazon Marketplace.

So; no need to hesitate if you want sterling quality performances of some great music; "The Isle of the Dead" is one of my very favourite tone poems and presents Rachmaninov at his most dark and compelling, while the "Symphonic Dances" offer echoes of both Sibelius' "Valse Triste" and Stravinsky.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Exciting and excellent value for money, 22 Dec 2007
This review is from: Rachmaninov: Symphonic Dances & The Isle of the Dead Op. 29 (Audio CD)
If you're looking for a bargain version of these underrated but atmospheric works then this fits the bill nicely. The recording acoustic has all the body and space you could want; and orchestral detail is not lost in a 'fug' - a particular problem with Rachmaninov because of his thick textures. Batiz keeps his orchestra on their toes and the spookiness of all these works (the dances really do suggest diembodied spirits at times, especially the lugubrious waltz in the second) keeps the attention riveted. If you want the utmost in subtlety go for Ashkenazy, but this full-on, in-your-face account has its place and keeps on the right side of vulgarity. An Edgar Allan Poe disc.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars HAND YOUR COIN OVER TO THE FERRYMAN..., 10 April 2009
By 
Adam Jackson (Stoke On Trent , England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Rachmaninov: Symphonic Dances & The Isle of the Dead Op. 29 (Audio CD)
Once again, Naxos fail to dissapoint - this is a superb recording from 1991 with some of the best audio quality I have come across from the label.
Symphonic Dances is a lively & often percussive affair, although perhaps not as savage as Stravinsky's Rite Of Spring; very enjoyable none the less.
The prize here for me is the melancholy & ominous Isle Of The Dead, as beautiful in parts as it is grim & foreboding. It's a piece that builds in a similiar fashion to say Gorecki's 3rd Symphony - although with much more variety & texture than said piece. In parts it's very 'full on' although never high tempo, just intense. My only slight dissapointement on my first hearing was that the Dies Irae theme is not used as distinctiveley as on Berlioz's Symphony Fantastique, but that is just a personal thing as I love that chilling sequence of notes ever since I first heard it on the soundtrack of Kubrick's landmark The Shining.
Naxos are again guilty of providing excellent liner notes and also deserve praise for using the actual painting that inspired Rachmaninov to compose The Isle Of The Dead, as the CD cover art.
59 excellent minutes of atmospheric & intense music!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a musical promenade through life and death, 9 Jan 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Rachmaninov: Symphonic Dances & The Isle of the Dead Op. 29 (Audio CD)
the 'symphonic dances', although not one of the best works of Rachmaninov, are enjoyable due to their highly descriptive qualities. like Vivaldi's 'four seasons'every detail of the scenery and action are transcribed into the melody. in the second of the dances, especially, you could just close your eyes and feel the liveliness of a spring day.
'the isle of the dead', intended to be the musical description of a romantic painting of the same name,is a most beautiful and mesmerizing piece of music.in the first movement, the musical theme is a recurrent crescendo,by which death appears ineluctable, but also anticipated. as the crescendo peaks, it seems that the arrival unto death's shores is the fulfillement and culmination of the life's journey.then follows the peacefulness and lightness of the second movement in which death is not painfull nor frightening, but a gentle and quiet dissolution. the return of the theme, at the end of the piece feels more brutal and powerful but decreases again to a gentle everlasting rocking sound.
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