Customer Review

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life is but an empty dream, 4 Dec 2009
This review is from: Rachmaninov: Symphonic Dances / The Isle of the Dead (Audio CD)
A composer of such astounding beauty as 'Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini' & the second movement of 'Piano concerto No.2' is not easily associated with the dark depths of 'Isle of the dead'. A symphonic interpretation of Arnold Bocklin's famous painting of Charon ferrying the dead across the river Styx that, unlike the majority of the Russian masters works, takes the listener out of her/ his comfort zone and places them upon the boat taking it's passenger on their last journey.
A relatively short piece,( not much over 20 minutes), this really shines as a work of exceptional depth. Building slowly as the boat moves through shallow waters , the piece builds almost dirge like, until the dread shore of the isle approaches and a crescendo is ascended. Fear, darkness, hopelessness and a very strong sense of finality are painted in huge black strokes by the composer until the listener can almost bear it no longer as the image of the home of the dead looms out of the mist and then very slowly and gently the music takes on an atmosphere of quiet resignation, a final acceptance of what is to come and simply fades to almost inaudible notes scattered here and there.
I suppose some may feel this to be an overly dramatic piece but that was Rachmaninov's style in all that he wrote & conducted. No half measures and the same critics would likely feel his other symphonic works and pieces for piano to be mawkish and overly sentimental. If however, like me, you love his work and are touched by the humanity he put into all his compositions then you really must give this a try.
It works best if listened to the from the viewpoint of your being in the boat! Each change in pace and increase in intensity then makes sense and add some real depth to the listening experience, ( a look at Bocklin's painting online or in a book would help too if you've not seen it before. It was on the original release of this recording),.
Don't let the age of this recording put you off, Ashkenazy has a real feeling for this piece and lends it exactly the right pace and delivers a final euphoric crescendo that leaves the listener breathless. He also guides the Concertgebouw effortlessly through a lively and well paced rendition of 'Symphonic dances' which has pace and vivacity and counterbalances the funereal feel of 'Isle of the dead' with a high tempo musicality.
I came across this purely by accident when it was first released and it has remained not just my favourite classical piece but one of my all time favourites across all genres. An insightful interpretation and superbly played recording of a truly unique and excellent classical piece.
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