on 29 April 2012
It was this recording (on LP on EMI's 'Melodiya' label) that introduced me to this work and I have used it as a yardstick ever since. I have heard numerous recordings of this symphony and all of them, even Svetlanov's remake in the box set, pale into insignificance beside it. True, the recording overloads at certain points but, who cares in a performance as visceral and exciting as this one. There is no other recording to touch it and I return to it again and again. Thankfully it avoids the added Glockenspiel that disfigures both Previn's and Ormandy's recordings and adheres to the score published in Moscow in 1977 (cost 5r.63k. in 1978). Although Rachmaninov forbade performances of it in his lifetime he must have retained an affection for it as he quoted it in the 1st movement of his final masterpiece - the Symphonic Dances. This is a Rachmaninov that those familiar with (say) the 2nd Piano Concerto or 2nd Symphony, will find, to say the least, surprising and Svetlanov relishes this 'red in tooth and claw' music. Listening to it one realises, if one hadn't already, what a great and original a composer Rachmaninov really was and just how many lies were told about him by his detractors (usually sneering 'superior' so called music lovers, self appointed 'experts' and arbiters of 'good taste') and just how taut the structure of the symphony is - all the music grows from motifs and rhythms introduced in the first movement. The symphony is so original it is not surprising that the orchestra and conductor (unbelievably the composer Aleksandr Glazunov) had so many problems and made such a hash of it at its premiere. The Scherzo is all mysterious half-lights and the Larghetto dark and brooding. We do get a long-breathed Rachmaninovian melody in the finale but this is shattered by a crash on the tam-tam (the LP distorted badly here) the symphony ends in a dark brooding coda wherein the D minor key of the work is well and truly established and the symphony ends in darkness. If you buy no other recording of this symphony get this one and if you see it and already have a recording, grab it, as it has a habit of disappearing from CD racks rather quickly. One of the great recordings of the 20th century of one of the 19th century's greatest symphonies.
on 22 March 2008
First note to last Svetalanov vindicates this much maligned symphony. Unlike the more overtly romantic second, this is more anguished and tense. Rachmaninov was only 23 when he started work on this symphony. The structure is a la Tchaikovsky and Svetlanov directs with such hot rolled passion, his orchestra a supreme virtuoso vehicle. I cannot imagine a more complete recording of this work (including Svetlanov's later attempts). It is volcanic, lyrical, super-charged ride into the abyss in all respects.
Svetlanov is the one to go for.
on 24 August 2012
I can only concur with Richard Cowdell's comments. This is an extraordinary performance even by Svetlanov's standards and once you hear it, it is really impossible to listen to any other reading, all of which seem limp in comparison. Above all, it shows what a strikingly original composer Rachmaninov was at a very young age and how incredibly organic and consistent this symphony is. After his breakdown following the failure of the premiere, he was never quite the same. Although some fine works followed, particularly the Bells which he himself perhaps correctly regarded as his masterpiece, and the second symphony which still contains more real feeling than sentimentality, his first is perhaps the most moving and powerful symphony ever composed by someone barely out of his teens.
on 11 December 2015
I can but concur wholeheartedly with the other reviewers. I was first introduced to Svetlanov's interpretations of Russian repertoire as a child in the very early 70's with, in my opinion, his unmatched recording of Scheherazade (USSR SO - Melodiya, 1969). I then later discovered his remarkable 1962 early stereo recording of the Rachmaninov 2nd Symphony with the Bolshoi Theatre Orch. Once these recordings enter your system there is no cure. In the case of this first symphony, only Ashkenazy and the Concertgebouw Orch. came close with his early 80's Decca Digital recording. Svetlanov had only just taken up the post of chief conductor of the USSR State Symphony Orchestra in 1965, the year before this recording was made. It is simply visceral. An unstoppable force of nature. Even after some years familiarity, with improved releases, mastering and definition, one hears new things, more profound impressions. There are some limitations in the recording with the levels, but it doesn't matter one jot. This latest release is the best transfer to digital / CD yet. Regis have done a superb job, I suspect they may have gone back a generation to master tapes not used for earlier vinyl mastering as many shortcomings found in previous issues, including vinyl versions (much as I am a devotee of them) are not there. It is a big improvement. There is great space, width and depth and detail, you can really hear what is going on - a true stereo recording. Possibly the best thing Yevgeny Svetlanov and his ensemble, near the peak of their powers, ever committed to tape.