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4.1 out of 5 stars
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on 22 October 2012
This is an eagerly anticipated release. It didn't take long for everyone to realize that the Royal Liverpool Phil. had a musical star in Vasily Petrenko, their boyish thirtysomething conductor. He debuted with the orchestra in 2004 at the age of 28 with brilliant promise. No one spoke of promise after a concert or two; they were already floored. Here was a major talent on the order, perhaps, of Bernstein and Karajan. the musicians loved Petrenko as much as the critics, because he made them sound like heroes.

Petrenko recently rose from Naxos to a major label, EMI, and he launched a Rachmaninov symphony cycle with a recording of Sym. #3 that was revelatory, elevating a score that many thought was inferior to the more famous Rachmaninov Second. Here is the Second, and Petrenko brings to it the same warmth and intuitive musical gifts that made the earlier record so captivating. Still, he faces a challenge, because this is a score that has gone from relative obscurity - when I was in college, almost no one played it in America but Eugene Ormandy, a personal friend of Rachmaninov's - to a standard in the orchestral repertoire. In just the recent past there have been acclaimed recordings by Antonio Pappano and Valery Gergiev. the latter was especially fine, as you'd expect from the premier conductor from post-soviet Russia and a world-class London Sym.

By comparison, Petrenko can't offer a world-class orchestra, but it doesn't matter. From the very first note this is a personal reading whose every gesture makes you lean forward, eager to hear what comes next. Swoopy, syrupy Rachaninov disappears. We are in a plaintive world filled with pain and ecstasy. the rise and fall of emotion brings you to the verge of tears, an astonishing thing when the music is so familiar and presents such a sentimental surface. (Imagine crying over 'Scheherazade.') Petrenko has no rivals in finding new depths in this music; the great brass outbursts in the first movement are electrifying, as if an emotional volcano is erupting.

Some great performances render any verbal description pointless, and this is one. the other fine recordings that I know - no just Gergiev and Pappano but Ormandy, Bychkov, and the classic Previn on EMI from 1972 - are left behind. I'm overjoyed to see Petrenko fulfill his potential. EMI's sound is fine; the additional fillers of three dances from Rachmaninov's opera Aleko are appealing curtain raisers. Needless to say, this is a must-listen for anyone who loves this music.
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on 8 October 2012
This is a very popular symphony which has been recorded so may times you begin to wonder if a new recording can suggest anything new. I only bought it because I love what Petrenko is doing at the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic.
To be honest I had grown a bit weary of hearing the usual readings which seem overly saccharine and forced, as if the romance is squeezed out of the music through sheer force of will. What a refreshing and liberating experience then to hear a version that allows the music to do all the hard work!
For a start the timing is inspired. Take the first movement Largo/Allegro Molto. Ashkenazy with Concertgebouw = 18:03, Jansons with St.Petersburg = 17:48 and Dutoit with the Philadelphia = 19:43. Petrenko takes a full 23:22 and it is a revelation. Phrasing breaths naturally and beautifully. Balance across the orchestra ebbs and flows creating a kaleidoscope of colours. The structure of the movement is revealed and now tells the full story carefully and impressively. The other movements now follow on with purpose. I guarantee you will see this symphony differently if you listen through one sitting!
The orchestra is now on a par with the Bentley orchestras of the world. The string sound is like Philadelphia and St.Petersburg (who I used earlier as a comparison partly for this reason). Some orchestras run at their maximum performance to turn out a good CD but others seem to have bags of skill and craft under the hood (the Bentleys!) Here the RLPO seems to be saying "I could race you and win if I wanted to but I don't need to because I know I can." The result is that they ooze quality and assurance and are able to concentrate on the ensemble sound rather than watching the notes on the page.
Buy the CD and I dare you to say you don't agree!
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 5 December 2012
I delayed purchasing this CD as I already had several very fine versions of this symphony including those by Ormandy, Rachmaninov's friend and only champion for many years, Rozhdestvensky and Vernon Handley with the RPO but this eclipses them all, presenting this music in the most convincing interpretation yet, despite taking the risk of including the first movement repeat, thereby extending its duration beyond what some consider advisable.

That is certainly not the case here: instead of souping up the Schmaltz, Petrenko goes for a lean, propulsive account of this symphony in which every bar breathes passion and commitment. The RLPO plays out of its skin, conjuring up glowing colours and emphasising the lyrical without resorting to excessive application of rubato. The opening Largo is full of brooding menace, Petrenko gradually building pace and tension with an unerring ear. Both Allegro movements are memorable for their drive and brio, the triumphant climax to the Finale leaving the listener breathless. Central to the symphony of course is the famous Adagio; again, Petrenko catches its swooning ecstasy without lingering.

The hors d'oeuvre is the three dances from "Aleko", sombre, exotic and beautifully scored to give aural prominence to the lower tessitura woodwind and strings; the concluding "Men's Dance" is a wild orgy of sound.

A great disc, a worthy continuation of Petrenko's acclaimed Rachmaninov series with the RLPO. (The timing for track 6 is wrong; it's 13:55.)
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on 2 October 2012
This recording is quite special: it seems that the exposition repeat in the first movement of Symphony 2 is usually ignored. Well, the symphony is a long one already. But what if the repeat is observed? Petrenko repeats this section, and it works extremely well. The performance is supremely balanced, celebrating the lyrical heart of this music but not at the expense of its overall progress. The recording is superb - warm and clear, which allows the wonderful orchestral textures to emerge in all their glorious colour, and the playing is beautiful. All the soloists are superb - the clarinettist in particular, so important at several places, is wonderful.
The RLPO organise the making of their own recordings (and there are very many very fine ones to sample on various labels - Peterenko's other Rachmaninov as well as the Shostakovich symphonies on Naxos). In this case the recording is issued by EMI under licence. With such a long list of superbly recorded music, it is good to see an orchestra keeping faith with its recording team!
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on 17 November 2012
Rachmaninoff's Second Symphony is a passionate work, but it's also a story of hard-earned triumph. Over-emphasise the romance, as so many do, and it can feel amorously obese. Not so Vasily Petrenko's new EMI recording with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. This is one of the most pugilistic accounts you'll experience on disc. While such an approach cannot quite tell the whole story, it's nonetheless a bit of a revelation.

All too often, this heartfelt work is bogged down in tooth-rotting self-indulgence. Antonio Pappano's 2011 recording with the Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia was so intent on underlining the emotions that he stopped the work dead in its tracks. Gergiev's 2010 account with the LSO had a much better balance of fire and ice (though it couldn't match the Sibelian grandeur of Tadaaki Otaka's recording with the BBC NOW). Here, Petrenko keeps romance at arm's length in what is a direct and sometimes violent interpretation.

A dark cloud hangs over the first movement. The cor anglais solo sounds in Siberian isolation, before the main allegro's smooth surfaces are undercut by chattering detail. Timpani pierce spectacularly through the textures, indicating that Rachmaninoff's symphonic life depended on this retort to the failure of his first symphony. Contrasting rather than repeating emotions, the heart-on-sleeve second subject offers a real sense of release.

Such an intense approach poses a few problems. The woodwind can sound shrill and there's a noticeable error in the third movement (around 10:52). Although it can feel more like a live account than a studio take, it luckily has that level of commitment and thrill. The second movement is particularly gripping, though the intimacy of the third movement falls a little short of expectation. Here, Petrenko needs to take his foot off the accelerator and the clarinet solo should have greater purity of line. The finale is also too thunderous. What is this journey about if not exorcising those demons? In Petrenko's reading, they're still haunting passages right to the close.

You may still prefer a more soft focus performance of this symphony but, with a highly theatrical performance of the Dances from Aleko provided as a curtain raiser, this is an invigoratingly fresh reading of a work too often served up as self-abasing sludge. Quite rightly, Petrenko thinks better of Rachmaninoff's symphonic masterpiece.
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on 9 July 2016
Dropped stars purely because guaranteed delivery wasn't met.

The recording itself is generally excellent. Petrenko plays the third movement at a sublimely slow pace but does rather rush the fourth movement just a little.

But the speed at which the movements are played is a personal taste.
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on 13 January 2013
this is the first rach 2 which stands comparison with my beloved ashkenazy/ concertgebouw recording. petrenko does, in my opinion, favour slower tempi in all of his rachmaninov recordings, to the point that the symphonic dances are almost disassembled. However, to my suprise, it really works here
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on 10 December 2012
"Not Romantic enough! Not Romantic enough!" was the continual refrain of my thoughts while listening to this. Petrenko conducts Rachmaninov as if he is Shostakovich, emphasising the rhythms and crescendos, but also causing the music to sound jumpy and a little superficial. The adagio is especially speedy at under 14 minutes. It's often easy to forget that Rachmaninov was a Russian composer, so perhaps Petrenko (a fellow Russian) was trying to highlight his heritage.

On the plus side, there is no doubt that Petrenko is one of the most promising conductors of the moment and, considering this is the Liverpool Philharmonic after all, the fullness of sound he creates, especially in the strings, is remarkable. His musicality and sensitivity is clear to see - fingers crossed for a major orchestral appointment soon. EMI's sound is decent, not brilliant - quite thick and lacking air. I have Svetlanov's version with the Russian Symphony Orchestra and, in honesty, that performance is light years ahead. Petrenko's Rachmaninov is too sparkly and too energetic, missing the Romantic anguish and turbulence that epitomises the work.
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on 6 October 2012
A terrific disc: thumbs up again for a young conductor who seems to me yet to have made an unconsidered or unconvincing disc. Superb playing from the RLPO too: what a golden period this appears to be for them. Rachmaninov 2 isn't an easy work to bring off because so many people know bits of it and therefore seem to know how it should go. The 60+ minute reality is different: a minefield of pacing and characterisation. This reading I think delivers the goods fully. First-rate.

My grumble is the Amazon-associated video, which seems (quoting Petrenko out of context) to suggest that Rachmaninov composed his 2nd symphony while in America, admiring horses on the ranch. Not so. Lazy film-making, and lazy for Amazon to have uploaded it.

No matter. The CD is, in my view, outstanding.
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on 11 January 2014
There are many, many recordings of this symphony. This the one that came up at the head of the search on the MP3 list but it is not the best. For the best look up Vladimir Ashkenazy with Andre Previn conducting.
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