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A fitting climax to a superb Rachmaninov cycle - from the "provinces"
on 10 December 2013
Having already enthusiastically received Petrenko's previous half a dozen Rachmaninov recordings with the the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, I was hardly going to stop short of buying this one, but it's not for reasons of completism that I am singing its praises. I honestly cannot hear a second-rank orchestra at work here; Petrenko has inspired and galvanised this regional orchestra into playing in kingly fashion.
I like very much Walter Weller's volatile and hard-driven account of the D minor symphony with "The Rock" on the bargain Eloquence issue but this version is more refined and even better played - and in superior digital sound. Comparisons with that Weller recording and the famous Ormandy version are not quite apposite insofar as Petrenko uses the original score with all the extra percussion which gives the reading such bite and impact. I refer you to Stewart Crowe's review for the gist of my reaction; I see no point in repeating what he has already said so succinctly. This is a thoroughly convincing performance - live, although you'd never know it except for the gain in its energy; there are virtually no extraneous noises. Petrenko conveys such conviction in his constantly shifting tempi and attention to colouristic detail; this is a whirling, shifting, kaleidoscopic interpretation which seems to whip through the music avoiding all longueurs, despite Rachmaninov's constant re-working of one theme. I seem to hear more kinship with Sibelius's soundworld in Petrenko's vision; I am frequently struck by the otherworldly passages in which flute and other woodwinds are prominent.
The introductory "symphonic poem" is a juvenile work with obvious connections to Rachmaninov's "Isle of Dead". That work is a masterpiece whereas the hypnotic water music of this earlier composition is less compelling, but Rachmaninov's unmistakable voice is already prominent and proleptic of later works. I like it very much and am glad of the opportunity to hear it.
This puts the cap on a splendid Rachmaninov series from a true rising star amongst young conductors.