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Only to be ranked with the best versions of these works,
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This review is from: Rachmaninov: Symphonic Dances; Isle of the Dead; The Rock (Audio CD)
This very well recorded disc made in 2008/9 is one of a continuing series of remarkably successful recordings made by the galvanised Liverpool orchestra. On this occasion Petrenko and his first class orchestra tackle a trio of Rachmaninov works spanning the whole of his composing career. In so doing Petrenko and his colleagues enter a fiercely competitive market featuring many of the finest conductors and orchestras.
The earliest work featured here is the last to be played on the disc. The symphonic poem, The Rock, was written when the composer was only 20 years old but already he had attracted the attention of Tchaikovsky who was keen to conduct it. The work does not betray Rachmaninov's youth in any way being a masterly example of orchestration applied to a tightly argued composition. The music is based on a short poem which related the meeting of two travellers at an inn during a raging snowstorm. The one, a middle aged and lonely man, relates a tale of his life to the other, an attractive young woman. Hoping to further the relationship the next morning the man finds only the woman's sleigh tracks outside. He continues to gaze after her, appearing to turn into a white rock as he becomes encased with the falling snow. This piece is played with compelling conviction and more than matches other versions heard on disc so far.
The disc opens with the Symphonic Dances, Rachmaninov's final composition and a work of compelling maturity. The conductor, Svetlanov, considers this work to be, in effect, a symphony such is its compositional form. Alternatively one can consider it as illustrating three stages in life's journey those being noon, evening and midnight at Rachmaninov had originally planned. The work was originally written as a two-piano work and that version is certainly the equal of the full orchestral version as here and which is more usually played. The two versions are complementary and are not to be compared to either's disadvantage as they bring out quite different characteristics of the music and to different effect. The performance by Petrenko and his orchestra on this disc is quite the equal of the best on disc and has a blazing drive and commitment which reflects Petrenko's determination to impart a genuine Russian sound to this orchestra when playing Russian music. As a consequence this is an appropriately Russian sounding and compelling performance of one of Rachmaninov's greatest 'symphonic' works.
The Isle of the Dead, a compositional masterpiece, comes between these two works and this dark work based on a painting showing Charon, the ferryman of Greek mythology, rowing across the River Styx to transport his dead passenger from the land of the living to the land of the dead. This, like the Symphonic dances, has had many fine recordings but this is as fine as any of its best predecessors and the music rises to its climatic points impressively.
I would therefore suggest that this very fine disc deserves to be considered with the finest currently available by any potential purchasers.