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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great value and fine performances, 28 Dec 2008
Colin Fortune (Birmingham, UK) - See all my reviews
This latest packaging of the three symphonies, the Symphonic Dances, Scerzo, Vocalise and Isle of the Dead is extremely good value especially for people who want the savings of the set that includes the concertos Rachmaninov - Orchestral Works but without the concertos, if you see what I mean.

Firstly there is the great advantage of the Second Symphony not being split over two discs (the exposition repeat is not taken in this performance). Secondly the recording quality of Symphonies 1 and 3 and the Symphonic Dances is very good indeed (Symphony 2 is a little less "open" in sound) and the interpretation of the Symphonic Dances is probably one of the best put on disc in the recent past. Symphony 3 delivers a very Russian feeling of loss and nostalgia. It is finely recorded and superbly played and conducted: a candidate for the best Symhony 3 on record. Indeed, disc 3 of this set is, I believe, one of the finest Rachmaninov discs available.

Adverse criticisms include the mannered slowing of the quiet horns at the beginning of the last movement of Symphony 1 and the rather poor quality tinny sounding tam-tam in the same movement, which also seems to lose something of its momentum as it progresses. Symphony 2 would have been a five star performance if the recorded sound had been as vivid as the later Symphony 1 and Symphonic Dances.

I really wanted to give this set four-and-a-half stars as I don't think the first two symphonies are quite up to the standard of Ashkenazy/Conertgebouw on Decca Rachmaninov: The Symphonies etc. but then they are about less expensive. The Ashkenazy has its problems too and the third disc of this Jansons/St Petersburg set is amazingly fine. The simple answer is to get both!
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sensational Rakhmaninov, 18 Mar 2010
Mr. A. R. Boyes "Alan Boyes" (Newcastle, England) - See all my reviews
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Are there any better Rakhmaninov recordings than these anywhere? If there are then they must be among the greatest classical recordings ever made. This is a wonderful compilation of all three symphonies plus the symphonic dances, Isle of the Dead and others. Add to that a bargain price.

The St Petersburg Philharmonic(SPPO) are at the top of their form - which is going some. The recording quality is demonstration level and then there's Mariss Jansons whose interpretations shed new light on all these works; all of which I was very familiar with to start with.

I know many listeners think of Rakhmaninov as the arch romantic. They will not be disappointed by these performances, particualrly the most romantic of all, Symphony no 2. However, Jansons and the SPPO demonstrate this music's incisive rhythmic drive from the First Symphony right up to the Symphonic Dances.

So added to the expansive romanticism is music to dance to and Rakhmaninov then sounds less like a super heated Tchaikovsky and more a fore runner to Prokofiev and Stravinsky. For those of you who prefer Tchaikovsky to those two, please don't be put off - no one has added any dissonances that weren't there. A particular highlight are the Symphonic Dances - for a work that quotes the Dies Irae, quotes tunes from earlier works and was his last major work it hardly sounds like death fearing music. The vitality sweeps you away even in the finale where the final bars seem to carry the dies irae more in a sense of triumph! The percussion at this point takes your breath away; astounding!

The Symphonic Dances are coupled on the final disc with the Third Symphony. I was familiar with Previn's version and felt dissatisfied not with his version but more the looseness of Rakhmaninov's construction. It has some beautiful and lyrical moments but seemed a rather casual affair. Under Jansons the structure seems much more taut and the work seems far more modern. This is a revelation in itself and this work can't have had a more sympathetic performance. For all that, I still find the symphony rather equivocal and I'm still not sure I'm a fan.

Jansons doesn't disappoint in the more popular Second Symphony, though to be fair, there are plenty of fine versions of this. I don't want to add much other than to say that to newcomers this is likely to be the favourite work, or perhaps the Symphonic Dances, and for those familiar with it; you'll get a top class performance.

The First Symphony was an angry piece that wasn't helped at its premiere by the conductor, Glazunov, being drunk at the time. Its bad reception deeply affected Rakhmaninov to the point the he re evaluated his style, leading to the more expansive Second. Jansons doesn't take the tempos of the First at any great pace - if anything, he's on the slow side. This does, however, help to emphasis the rhythmic daring of the music. Again, for those unfamiliar with the symphony it sounds at times angry, at other times triumphant but always with a hint of menace even in the slow and quieter sections.

For me, Rakhmaninov was a little over zealous in this symphony's construction and it sounds a bit stiff - varying the same material a little too often over the course of the four movements. Even so, it's an underrated and under performed work with plenty of fine music.

Add to all that you have a typically atmospheric rendition of the Isle of the Dead, radiant performance of Vocalise and a revelation in an early, student orchestral scherzo which is precocious in the extreme.

If you don't have the Rakhmaninov symphonies buy this set now.If you do then throw the old one out and get this. I cannot recommend this any higher - all time great recordings!
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars CD performances, 23 Aug 2010
Extremely good value for top class performances. Rachmaninov 2nd Symphony is performed in a shortened version compared with other CD performances but this is quite normal with some conductors for this symphony. A good CD set for any collection.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Value, 14 Sep 2011
Excellent idiomatic recordings by a top class orchestra and conductor
The sound quality is faithful and wide ranging,perhaps needing a little
extra volume than normal.
The ever popular Symphony 2 is given a very satisfying performance and
cedes very little to the classic Previn and the finely detailed Fischer,
and not as "Russian" as Svetlanov.
The above comments mean very little if you don,t know the music very
well,so if Rachmaninov is new to you then this package is a great buy
as the other symphonies and orchestral works are first rate.
I have owned many versions of these works and this set is as satisfying
as any and at its price beats all comers.So,great value.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars NOT A MORNING PERSON, 2 May 2010
DAVID BRYSON (Glossop Derbyshire England) - See all my reviews
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Morning and Rachmaninov seem not to have been intended for each other. The final item on the third of these three discs is the Symphonic Dances, which were R's last major composition. The three dances were originally intended for a ballet, and they denote noon, twilight and midnight, morning being unrepresented. The entire scope of this set can also be thought of as a resume of R's total career. Viewing it as a single day, we may take the second symphony and the tone poem Isle of the Dead (dark though that is) as representing the composer's noontide; and the Symphonic Dances and third symphony as some late hour. Morning is here too, but it is having to struggle. The Scherzo in D minor is R's earliest dated composition, but it did not receive its first performance until after his death. The story of the disastrous premiere of the first symphony is well enough known, conducted atrociously by Glazunov whether or not he was drunk as some allege. It was never performed again in the composer's lifetime and was reconstructed from his papers. You will hear its motto theme in the first Symphonic Dance, suggesting that R retained a fondness for it as if for a child who had died. Also here, alas, is the Vocalise in an orchestral arrangement. It might be good Ketelby, but as Rachmaninov it is almost a self-parody. I do not want it in any version, but I am sure this is a good one.

More certain is that the other performances are very good ones indeed. The three discs were recorded during the 90's, the first disc being the last recorded, from 1999. The recording of the first symphony seems less vivid than the sound the other two are given, this being more a matter of curiosity to me than criticism. Perhaps the decision was to darken the sound slightly, and understandably if so. Probably the composer's own sound in the first symphony is less vivid than in the others, and when it comes to the awesome Isle of the Dead of course vividness is the very last thing anyone will want. I love the way it is done here, with a sense of solemn dark beauty and stateliness rather than suggestive of Poe. As for the symphony, I like it. It is not the equal of its stablemates, sure, but I would still call it a fine late-romantic symphony, and you will hear it performed here with sympathy and understanding. At least you can say of Rachmaninov that he is never cheap, even in his finales. Try saying that of Tchaikovsky.

In all the three symphonies I sense that the St Petersburg players are at home with the composer's idiom, which is not of course a risky opinion. I am out of my depth with ethnic questions in the matter of musical interpretation, but I am in no doubt that Mravinsky seemed more authentic in the Tchaikovsky symphonies, with this very orchestra then entitled the Leningrad, than any westerner did, and I get the same impression here although I have not conducted comparisons. The sound is more westernised now than it was in Mravinsky's day, and to some extent I regret that although it is a small price for the political gain. What I will certainly give Jansons very high marks for is his ability to keep the first movements of the symphonies coherent. They are all to a fast pulse, but they go slow for long stretches too. Jansons has the confidence to go very slow when the expression calls for that, but I never felt any loss of overall grip. Another thing I want given full value is those great long-breathed tunes, like nobody else's. The symphonies do not feature these to the extent that the concertos do, but they are here still, in the first movement of no 3 for example but above all in the adagio of no 2, and I believe you are going to get your money's worth. Indeed in passing perhaps I should point out what probably needs no pointing out, namely that this set is a spectacular bargain.

The D minor scherzo is interesting and attractive, with the influence of Mendelssohn easy to detect, a very good thing in a scherzo. The Symphonic Dances are obviously a much bigger deal, the term `symphonic' referring to the scale of the pieces, not to their style. Among them the three dances come to over half an hour, only 3 or 4 minutes less than the 3-movement third symphony takes. This time I did carry out a comparison, and you may find it interesting. There is a brilliant Naxos disc of piano-duet works by Rachmaninov brilliantly and exuberantly performed by the greatly underrated Peter Donohoe with Martin Roscoe. This contains the Dances in an arrangement that I suppose is the composer's own. It is good enough to be his, and this disc is good enough for me to prefer the Dances done by the right pianists to even as good an orchestral account as we find here. Donohoe and Roscoe are rather faster in each piece, but the real difference is in the tone. There is no lack of vigour when required from Jansons, but there is, understandably, a valedictory feel to this late suite. As the duettists give them these works tell me that there was plenty of life in R yet, and if things had gone right there ought to have been. He still had three more years to live, when he died he was still only 70, and his death was from cancer not from decrepitude.

Anyhow, these are orchestral works, and this is an orchestral set that I can recommend thoroughly. From my own point of view I am glad to have acquired it before Charon comes calling for my fare across the dark waters, and it ought to give many years' value and enjoyment to many another.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A deserving top choice, 20 Feb 2014
Especially with the bargain price advantage, but irrespective of bargain price, I can understand why this set could become the primary choice for many collectors, and it has become one of my top choices in this repertoire along with Previn and Ashkenazy. Partly this is because the conductor generates performances with the orchestra that are so alive to the spirits of each symphony retaining in the studio the sense of anticipation that one feels at memorable live concerts. Above all this set is crowned by what for me is the finest recording of the symphonic dances I have come across and this performance is even more beautifully recorded and vividly characterised than the other marvellous performances in this set.
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