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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 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.
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on 4 March 2015
My favourite version will always be Ormandy/Philadelphia (on vinyl of course), which this version, though does not surpass, certainly gives it a muscular challenge. Liverpool has enjoyed great conductors in the past and Petrenko has taken them to a different level of ensemble and sure-footedness. Keep it coming Vasily. I am going to rush out and buy his Elgar now.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 3 December 2013
The concise but highly informative notes to this recording remind us that the opening of the finale was used as the title music to the BBC news magazine programme Panorama in the 1960's, and as a young teenager it was my first exposure to this work. As a further aside, the coda from the finale was also used over the end credits in the superb BBC documentary series, "The Lost Peace", a sequel to their epic "Great War" series.

The history of the symphony's failure at its premiere under a drunken Glazunov and its disappearance following this is well known, as is Rachmaninov's despair over the fiasco, but it is not quite accurate to suggest that he did not return to it other than to quote wistfully from it in his last orchestral work the Symphonic Dances. He did in fact sketch revisions of various sections from time to time-and discussed a complete revision with Ormandy in the 1940's which sadly did not materialise before his death.

The Performing Edition compiled from one set of orchestral parts and published in the USSR in 1947 is not the last word in terms of editions-there have emerged a number of versions all by the composer and varying in scoring, particularly with regard to percussion.

I've loved this work since my early teens, and although Rachmaninov's music is looked down upon as second rate by the intelligentsia, I'm happy to be one of the lesser intelligentsia that loves the romantic, dramatic and (worst crime of all!) melodic sweep of his music.

The bar was set phenomenally high in terms of recording by the 1966 Ormandy/Philadelphia recording, the first in stereo and still sounding magnificent, in which he opts for the "middle ground" in terms of Editions-he adds the glockenspiel and doubles brass and woodwind, but omits the rest of the ordnance section specified in the first version.
Later recordings from Svetlanov, Weller and Previn through to Ashkenazy and Maazel have eschewed all Rachmaninov's youthful excesses and played the more sophisticated "3rd" version, and it was not till Andrew Litton recorded it with the RPO that we got the full unadulterated and unexpurgated original version!

Happily, on this wonderful recording, Vasily Petrenko also uses the fully scored edition in what is the finest performance to date-truly startling and original, and despite what the SFL opines in his review that the RLPO is not a World Class Orchestra (define!), they give a world class performance on this recording and yield nothing in terms of brilliance to their colleagues from the USA, Holland and Germany! Liverpool rocks!!

The symphony is an extended set of variations on the "Dies Irae" motif from the Liturgy, a theme beloved by the composer and to which he returned repeatedly throughout his life.

Petrenko does not follow the majestic steady tempo of Ormandy and Ashkenazy throughout the work, and is even more interventionist than Maazel in changing tempo throughout each movement-whipping up the tempo or drawing back-and it results in the most fascinating interpretation yet.

From early in the first movement, we are aware of the presence of the extra percussion, with added use of cymbals, triangle, Turkish Crescent, tambourine, tam- tam, thunderous timps and cataclysmic bass drum.
The third movement is the most extraordinary-Petrenko creates a truly menacing sound world, with massed low strings counterbalancing scary muted trumpets, and then the sudden brief incursion of chimes and triangle at the apex of the movement (usually omitted). The effect is truly unsettling.

The finale struts off at a cracking martial tempo, very exciting and in a wonderful touch, Petrenko has the muted bugle calls on the trumpets -following the opening salvo- offstage-and fades them away. The effect is magical. While no orchestra, not even Karajan's BPO for Maazel can match the low strings of the Philadelphia for Ormandy which sound like a pack of Harley-Davison's revving up in the close balance given them by CBS, the Liverpudlians give them a good run for their money, and the weight of the orchestral playing matches its excellence throughout the work.

The coda is as shatteringly powerful as any with the possible exception of Ashkenazy, who takes a controversially slow tempo and adds massive weight, but in this work pervaded by "death always having the last card", no matter how sporadically man might triumph against fate, the overall conception of Petrenko leaves the listener overwhelmed.

The main work is preceded by the early work Prince Rostislav, a rarity that is interesting without being compelling.

I must praise also the Warner/EMI engineers who once again capture the sound with brilliance and transparency and none of the boxiness which can pervade Petrenko's recordings for Naxos.

There is no shortage of great recordings-the 3 aforementioned are all superb, and in stunning sound (you must make sure to get the re-mastered Maazel set if that is your choice).
The norm is for all 3 symphonies to be issued as a set in due course, and this applies to Ormandy, Ashkenazy and Maazel-though I would warn that the Ormandy includes the 1959 heavily cut recording of the Second in a poor mastering, but returns to form with a superb 3rd. The Pletnev set is in lush sound but in my view a touch prosaic, especially in the First Symphony. The complete Petrenko set will rival the best listed above.

Recordings to avoid are Jansons/St. Petersburg for its dry sound and its peculiar balancing, the dreadful Dutoit/Philadelphia on Decca (which has in any event sunk without trace-no world class playing on THAT recording)-and the Svetlanov unless you are a glutton for the punishing sound of off pitch strangulated brass from the bad old days!

No performance of the First, no matter how well played and recorded matches this one as an interpretation though-in this performance one can agree with Robert Simpson that this is THE great post Tchaikovsky Russian symphony-well, for about 50 minutes anyway! This is my favourite of the Rachmaninov Symphonies, just pipping the Third-I am less fond of the Second which I know bucks the trend-and it is to this performance that I shall return for the share brilliance of its interpretation. Unreservedly recommended. Stewart Crowe.
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on 17 January 2014
The largely positive responses here to this new recording persuaded me to invest in yet another recording of this great work. I have loved this wonderful Russian symphony from the moment I first heard it and cannot understand why we hear it so rarely in the concert-halls of the world instead of vacuous pieces like Richard Strauss' Ein Heldenleben.
However, I feel that Petrenko's approach is very much work in progress and he doesn't quite pull off a minor miracle in making this a top recommendation. On the positive side, there is evidence of sensitive shaping of musical phrases - of which there are many in this symphony - and strong forward momentum. Thanks to the very transparent recording a great deal of instrumental detail, often submerged in other recordings, makes one aware of how skilled Rachmaninov already was in mastering orchestral colour and what an absolute tragedy it was that the work had such a disastrous premiere.
The basic problem is that Petrenko charges at fences again and again, not allowing the symphonic lines to unfold properly, and hustling his players through passages that require a longer-breathed approach. There is a great deal of majesty and dark melancholy in this work, and sheer vigour and energy will not always unlock those secrets successfully. I was also mildly shocked to discover on reading the liner notes what a small-scale string complement Petrenko had at his disposal. Four double-basses? Those who regard the RLPO as a world-class ensemble are entitled to their patriotic over-indulgence, but I'm afraid the strings are found sadly wanting again and again. Just listen to the Concertgebouw under Ashkenazy or the Philadelphia under Ormandy where sumptuous string textures convey the Russian soul far more adequately.
I accept there has always been an issue with any "authorised" version of the score. Even Ormandy makes a small cut in his recording. However, the paraphernalia of extra percussion employed by Petrenko is like pouring huge quantities of treacle over a dark chocolate cake. It adds absolutely nothing to the symphonic argument and runs the risk of cheapening the melodic lines. There is a particularly egregious example of this eight minutes or so into the slow movement. I cannot believe that were Petrenko to re-record this work in twenty years time he would commit this and other musical sins again.
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on 23 November 2013
Note: Since this CD hasn't been listed on U.S. Amazon except as an import, I'll first post a review here, hoping to transfer it later.

Among the younger Russian conductors, Petrenko and Vladimir Jurowski tend to tone down the blowsy rhetoric of some composers (especially Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov) that earlier Soviet conductors like Svetlanov reveled in. Not everyone responds to that. Petrenko's recordings of Rachmaninov's first two symphonies were widely praised, but there were complaints that he wasn't effusive enough or that the Royal Liverpool Phil. couldn't match the lush sonority of Ormandy's Philadelphia Orch., who made the symphony cycle that most Americans knew in the postwar era, up to the fall of the Soviet Union.

By that standard, the same reservation could be directed at this new Sym. #1. Petrenko's interpretation is sensitive and thoughtful in the low-key music - he whips up real excitement in the bi climaxes and the exultant finale - and the orchestra, although beautifully recorded - isn't world class. I was enthralled by the earlier Petrenko installments of Sym. #2 and #3, so these objections aren't relevant. When a conductor can find nuances that more blatant interpreters can't, I'm won over. If you prefer more robust, ultra-Romantic readings, Ormandy and Svetlanov remain excellent choices.

As every program notes, Rachmaninov suffered a severe blow,musically and psychologically, when his first symphony was premiered in 1897. He had graduated from conservatory with an A+ followed by four more pluses, awarded by a jury that included Tchaikovsky. In hindsight, the score doesn't deserve the critical assault it met with, much of it inspired by a shoddy, ill-prepared performance. But it is repetitious and at times garrulous, which won't matter if you love the musical material that Rachmaninov lavishes so much attention on. The moody opening motif, which has an agitated answer, gets repeated throughout the symphony, and it's harmonically ambiguous enough that Rachmaninov, unlike Tchaikovsky in his Fifth Sym., can keep finding new ways to remain emotionally shaded and shifting. Even when the music becomes thrillingly exuberant in the finale, there's a menacing quality that pulls like an undertow at the prevailing triumph.

Petrenko delivers all of it in a heartfelt manner - here is a native composer he fully believes in, which hasn't always been true for non-Russian audiences. Now that Sym. #2 has become a concert staple and a showpiece, the other two symphonies might follow the same trail to acceptance. Neither the First or Third is quite as good as the Second, although I've come to like them almost as much. This CD is filled out with a student tone poem, Prince Rostislav, from 1891, the year Rachmaninov turned eighteen. Like the Isle of the Dead, this 16-min. score is funereal - the poetic subject concerns a knight lying dead by a river bank who is caressed by water nymphs, but who resists their call to the grave as he tries desperately to connect with his wife and child. The opening water music, underlying a dirge-like motif, is amazingly skillful for a teenage composer, all the more because it seamlessly merges into Rachmaninov's mature style. He really was consistent from beginning to end; by this point his allegiance to swooning Romanticism was set in place.

If you admired Petrenko's earlier Rachmaninov and don't demand the ultimate in heart-on-sleeve emotions, this completion of the symphony cycle is as worthy as its predecessors.
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on 18 February 2016
Good performance, this symphony sounds complex.
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on 25 March 2014
I have been eagerly awaiting the Symphony No1 from the RLPO and Petrenko and i must say i am not disappointed. In fact i believe it is the best of the lot and not to be missed. I also think the recording has more vibrancy that the others.
Truly remarkable.
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on 11 December 2013
Wonderful performance and recording. My wife and I were at one of the concerts where the recording was made and that was spectacular. We were worried at first because unlike (I presume) the two previous Rachmaninov symphonies with Petrenko and the RLPO this was billed as being "recorded in concert". However our concerns were groundless!
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on 22 February 2014
This is the most enjoyable recording I have heard of this symphony.Crisp , good rhythm and last movement dynamic.Together with the same conductor and orchestra playing the Second Symphony I would urge listeners to but these recordings.
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on 26 February 2014
This performance shows the symphony in a new light - neither bombastic nor over-sentimental. This must surely be the way the composer heard it in his head!
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