Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 1 [Leonard Slatkin, Detroit Symphony Orchestra] [Naxos: 8573234]
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Rachmaninoff: The Isle of the Dead & Symphony No. 1
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L'Île des morts , op.29 - Symphonie n°1, op.13 / Detroit Symphony Orchestra - Leonard Slatkin, direction
'Warm-hearted, scrupulously balanced, full of detail and rhythmic life and very well paced...Slatkin whips things up to splendid effect - the opening fanfares have an unbuttoned splendour that is just what's needed, helped by rhythmic tension and clear textures...I urge interested collectors to give it a try.' --International Record Review, November 2013
Top customer reviews
Given a tenth of the searing passion displayed in this music by Ashkenazy and the Concertgebouw, it might have passed muster. But, as it is, it's a total dog, to be avoided.
Regretfully, the Detroit is now a sub-par orchestra, and it shows. And Slatkin seems to be sleepwalking through this one, as he does so often now. Where is the dynamic conductor of the fine St Louis band of the 70s?
And the sonics? Frankly, not too much to write home about. Even as a 24/96 download, or up-sampled to 24/192, it's rather muddy, airless and close-up. I dread to think what the RBCD sounds like. You can do a lot better.
In hi-res sound, the Noseda (Chandos) is far superior, both musically and sonically. In RBCD, Ashekanazy and the Royal CGB is the version to die for. It just stomps all over this one. And vinyl? Well, that's a whole different ball game, of course. But I'd eventually go for the Weller, as Previn makes a bit of a hash of this one.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
The recording quality is excellent, and the orchestration is clear. Recommended for anyone looking to enhance their Rach collection or just looking for some exciting large-orchestral music. This one is heavy on my iPod rotation for the office when I need to concentrate for extended periods.
By contrast, Slatkin does not achieve this level of drive with his Detroit players. He is content to give everything a burnished and coherent sound. He left out the drive. His coda in the finale is not, as the ClassicsToday review says, almost indistinguishable from Ashkenazy's. It is much faster and does not have the thrilling effect of Ashkenazy. Another approach is that of Y. Svetlanov in his 1966 performance with the USSR SO, now on a Regis CD. Svetlanov yanks out every last measure of angst in this symphony and his orchestra plays like a typical 1960s Russian orchestra--uninhibited, brash, and sometimes lacking polish. But that is compensated by the raw emotion they convey. Slatkin is light-years away from Svetlanov in this symphony. The same applies to Slatkin's Isle of the Dead: it's polished all right, but not terribly exciting. The climaxes fail to make the impact that better performances achieve. (My personal favorite is Enrique Batiz with the Royal Philharmonic, also on Naxos, coupled with a great Symphonic Dances.)
So, if all you want is pretty orchestral playing, this Slatkin/DSO performance is a safe bet. But if you want to hear why this symphony is truly Rachmaninov's greatest (yes, better than the Second!), get Ashkenazy's or Svetlanov's.
Since the orchestra has had its struggles, in keeping with the problems of other regional American orchestras since the downturn of 2007, I wish that Naxos was producing a series of winning recordings from Detroit. but Slatkin is coasting, which is true, more or less, in the releases with his other orchestra in Lyon. It's a shame that a promising talent has petered out this way. In any case, the program begins with Rachmaninov's best-known tone poem, The Isle of the Dead, given a lifeless reading that proceeds from bar to bar without making any impression. The symphony begins with a fairly strong statement of the score's leading motif, only to lapse into rote music-making. The two inner movements make an effect of prettiness only. the finale finds more energy - it could hardly summon less - but lacks tension and conviction. throughout the orchestra plays with tight ensemble, and the various solos come off well, without seeming like anything special.
This Rachmaninov cycle has received some very good reviews at various places, and I wish the orchestra a brighter financial future. But the Russians own these symphonies. For a gripping account by an American orchestra, one has to go back to Ormandy and the Philadelphians, who carried the banner for Rachmaninov at a time when everyone else was content to let it fall.
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