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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Symphonies 1 and 2 + the Bells will make you return., 24 May 2012
By 
Tintagel (St Albans, Herts) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Rachmaninov: Symphonies Nos.1-3 (Audio CD)
Although the Autumnal atmosphere and golden colourings of the Third Symphony are well caught I just wish for a little more momentum. After Ashkenazy this can seem a little Earthbound, though the weight of the Orchestral sound is incredible, giving the whole thing an epic feel. Similar points could be made about the Symphonic Dances which, largely, don't dance. Wonderful Orchestral playing and great sound don't quite save it, but if you already have much-loved versions it is still very interesting to hear this one.

So why five stars? Simple answer: The rest of the set!

I bought these discs separately long before this box was released, in the following order:

Symphony No.2

One of the great Orchestral recordings of the 1990s. With outstanding string articulation in the Finale and a weight of string tone that is totally matchless the sweep and power of the work comes over in full. Although the first movement is swift this just avoids sentiment, yet the whole thing is so damn beautiful that you will return for more. I particularly love the horns in the second movement, though again those sumptuous strings sing the main melodies like they have never been sung before. The fast section is so well articulated that you hear every note.

The great slow movement is again totally unsentimental, and I like the fact that the Russian clarinet sound both - well - Russian AND refined. Not an easy thing to do!

But it's the finale that wins, it really does. Incredibly fast, the RNO are more than a match for Pletnev's demands. Those dark brass chorales (is that what they are called? If you know the work you will know what I mean) benefit from the rasp of the brass tone, and the pacing is brilliant. Unsurprisingly, though, it's the strings that do the business AGAIN. Twice the great sweeping tune dominates proceedings, and it is played with such searing intensity, yet with comfortable tone, that you won't be able to believe what you are hearing. The rush of adrenalin at the end is unstoppable. Unquestionably a great moment in recording history.

The First, too, is magical. Many of the same qualities found their way in, though there is a sense that this performance is slower than it could be. That said, it doesn't bother me because the eerie, other-wordly moments are brought off so well. After the main fanfare at the opening of the finale there are some distant horn calls. Pletnev cuts the tempo here (compare to Ashkenazy - a personal favourite amongst alternatives) and you can't help but feel it's totally right. The weight and power of this reading is breathtaking.

The Bells is another magical performance, helped hugely by the soloists and - surprisingly - a lightness of touch from the Orchestra when necessary. The delicate opening is to fleet and feathery that it is hard to believe that this is such a monster of an Orchestra! Some are disappointed by the chamber choir sound. I am not. They really punch through the sound picture with remarkable clarity and pitching is amazingly true. Sure you get even more impact from large choirs, such as Ashkenazy's or Previn's, but this just different.

So overall you are in for a treat with this set. Pletnev can be a little chilly at times, but here the big-hearted performances from the Orchestra win the day. A great piece of work overall.
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Rachmaninov: Symphonies Nos.1-3
Rachmaninov: Symphonies Nos.1-3 by Russian National Orchestra (Audio CD - 2011)
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