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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Grave, powerful readings of two masterpieces - a must-listen
Anyone who was bowled over by Gergiev's last Rachmaninov release, a superb Sym. #2, will be eager for this new release, although both the symphony and the Symphonic Dances are in danger of being over-exposed quite a contrast from the days before the post-Soviet invasion of Russian conductors, when Eugene Ormandy was almost the only one to turn to. Now with Gergiev,...
Published on 5 April 2012 by Santa Fe Listener

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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars More dance, less symphonic
The clue's in the title. Symphonic Dances. OK, so there are two clues... symphonic and dances. Do the two mix? Having thought that Valery Gergiev would emphasise the latter, the LSO's new recording of Rachmaninoff's 1940 masterpiece declares symphonic credentials. Portentous and a little dull, it overstates this nimble music. Even Stravinsky's mordant glance at symphonic...
Published on 24 April 2012 by Entartete Musik


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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Grave, powerful readings of two masterpieces - a must-listen, 5 April 2012
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Anyone who was bowled over by Gergiev's last Rachmaninov release, a superb Sym. #2, will be eager for this new release, although both the symphony and the Symphonic Dances are in danger of being over-exposed quite a contrast from the days before the post-Soviet invasion of Russian conductors, when Eugene Ormandy was almost the only one to turn to. Now with Gergiev, Jurowski, and Petrenko firmly in place at the top of British-based conductors, we are getting the Russian classics as we've never heard them before, or at least not since the heyday of Mravinsky (who apparently didn't conduct Rachmaninov - white Russian antipathy?)

The refinement that Gergiev brings to all of this music, which is an antidote to the swaggering but crude Soviet way, runs the danger of gilding the lily. He is very deliberate and detailed in the first movement of the Symphonic Dances, and for every gain in color and nuance, there's a loss of energy and propulsion. Rachmaninov was a wonderful orchestrator - Hollywood would have hired him in a flash - so for anyone who already knows this score well, Gergiev's new version is a delight. But newcomers should know that there are approaches that have more swagger and jazziness. The recorded sound is very good, and the orchestral playing beyond compare. Just be prepared for grave emotions - who suspected that this score had such darkness? - and much self-conscious phrasing. Yet in its own way this is a transformative reading - a once-neglected masterpiece of post-Romanticism is made to glow with meaning.

Gergiev has been making up for another gap in Soviet music-making, the policy of ignoring Stravinsky's music after the three great ballets. I've heard quite a number of Gergiev readings of the three symphonies (Symphony of Psalms, Symphony in C, and Symphony in Three Movements - some add a fourth, the Symphonies for Wind Instruments). His way with them is powerful and a great deal more visceral than anything Stravinsky conceived of - or condoned. The wartime Symphony in Three Movements is the bleakest of the three,and the period over which it was written, 1942-45, brought Western civilization into grave peril. Despite his surroundings historically, Stravinksy was following his own course musically, as geniuses will, so the score has another side, its almost cheery neoclassical chirping and skipping. Gergiev brings vitality to these parts, but he isn't as bright or sparkling as the composer himself or Ernest Ansermet among classic recordings from the past. Still, this is a beautifully conceived reading with absolutely wonderful playing and sound.

In short, a must-listen in both works.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gergiev lets these Russian masterpieces catch on fire, but it's his sense of direction that makes the day, 3 April 2012
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Andrew R. Barnard (Leola, Pa United States) - See all my reviews
If it's not a consensus that Valery Gergiev has brought new life to the British musical scene that hasn't been seen in decades, it should be. The LSO is attaining new heights, playing on a super-virtuoso level that isn't very far from their European rivals. Both Rachmaninov and Stravinsky are composers that seem well suited to Gergiev's temperament. Since Gergiev's Rachmaninov 2nd with the LSO was beyond compare, a new Rachmaninov release was cause for great anticipation from this listener.

Gergiev is often accused of being rushed and mechanical. These criticisms aren't entirely unwarranted, but comparing his timing in the Symphonic Dances to fellow-Russian Ashkenazy's, Gergiev is slower in every movement. Ashkenazy's classic account is light in tone and spirit with the playing of the Concertgebouw to dazzle the listener. Gergiev takes a more deliberate approach. The crashing chords at the opening of the first movement aren't just powerful, they're hammer blows. But that's not to say that his approach is a heavy-handed one. The thing that struck me that most was his ability to make the music sound fresh and effortless. These are dances and while Gergiev isn't balletic, he finds a way to give the music a spontaneity that is apt for dance music. Ashkenazy is perhaps more danceable than Gergiev, but the latter is more dark and Russian in texture. I sense direction, a feel for the overall flow of the work. Gergiev had few peers when he took over the LSO, but he's maturing. That is evidenced by the way he builds tension without letting go to soon, something particularly apparent at the closing of the final movement. For some, Ashkenazy's lightness will be preferred above Gergiev's brooding inspiration, but I think this recording is on a higher plane.

We enter a different world when we cross over into the Stravinsky. The product of a composer trying to convince the world with his newfound polytonalities, the symphony is full of jagged edges. My Rattle account with the Berlin Philharmonic was full of unrivaled playing, but Rattle tried to smooth out the work's aggression and seemed to dawdle over every note and phrase, ultimately sounding mannered. Gergiev doesn't match Rattle's voicing abilities, but the absence of fussiness isn't missed. I don't sense that the work is being tamed; the LSO delivers even more bite than the Berliners. But Gergiev isn't out to be menacing either. He doesn't keep the music from sounding sarcastic and angry although I sense he's trying to show us Stravinsky's classicism. Some will be disappointed that Gergiev didn't let hell break loose but he's deeply committed. In fact, I'm not sure that jarring sounds are the main point of the symphony. Gergiev finds meaning in almost every bar, building momentum without losing the beauty of the individual moment. Ultimately this is a much more inspired reading than Rattle's, but I wouldn't have minded more aggressiveness.

It's incredible to witness sensational musicians at the height of their powers. Gergiev is continuing to establish his reputation as one of the most exciting conductors alive and this disc catches him in great spirits.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars More dance, less symphonic, 24 April 2012
The clue's in the title. Symphonic Dances. OK, so there are two clues... symphonic and dances. Do the two mix? Having thought that Valery Gergiev would emphasise the latter, the LSO's new recording of Rachmaninoff's 1940 masterpiece declares symphonic credentials. Portentous and a little dull, it overstates this nimble music. Even Stravinsky's mordant glance at symphonic heritage feels stodgy.

It's surprising given Gergiev considerable terpsichorean skill. His performances of Tchaikovsky's and Prokofiev's ballet scores are impassioned but delicate. Here, Rachmaninoff's ballet manqué is shown in a stodgy light. Rather than aggressive attack, the LSO clomps through the first movement. The more lyrical middle section ekes forward, but the transitions are week and the score feels disjointed.

The second and third dances fare better, though even here the wit of Rachmaninoff's late style is overburdened. When the sweeping waltz finally settles in, it is given a Rosenkavalier sheen, yet it would be even more luscious if cast in relief. For a truly bobbing performance, choose Ashkenazy and the Concertgebouw.

Gergiev returns to form in the ferocious and full-blooded opening to Stravinsky's Symphony in Three Movements. It has a instant capricious quality. The quick attack of the LSO strings and piano communicates wit at last. But it doesn't last long enough and the Andante lacks bounce. The final movement feels belaboured and po-faced, making for a disappointing recording. The LSO play well on their own terms, but Gergiev needs to lighten up.
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Rachmaninov: Symphonic Dances
Rachmaninov: Symphonic Dances by London Symphony Orchestra Valery Gergiev
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