Superb live Rachmaninov Symphony 2 from Ashkenazy

Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Op. 27

Philharmonia Orchestra, Vladimir Ashkenazy

Vladimir Ashkenazy is no stranger to the works of Rachmaninov and he has successfully recorded both the piano concertos (as a soloist) and the symphonies in the past. Rachmaninov’s second symphony, running to some 60 minutes, is the most imposing of his three symphonies.

The symphony’s long brooding slow introduction sets the tone for the entire first movement rising from the darkness into a passionate climax and then returning to the gloom. The cor anglais ushers in the large scale second movement. Later a solo clarinet introduces an unmistakably Rachmoninovian tune and there follows a tempestuous development section with ever louder and more dissonant climaxes before a more relaxed recapitulation. The third movement contains a truly glorious clarinet tune that is restated by the violins (as in his second piano concerto). The final movement opens in a buoyant and joyful mood and the work is brought to a triumphant conclusion.

On this CD we have a live performance conducted by the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy. It was recorded in the South Bank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall on 5 November 2015. From the first notes the music flows with intent and it is clear that we are in for a charged account of this fine work. Mark van de Wiel deserves to be singled out for his most poetic clarinet solo in the adagio. The finally is performed at quite a pace, in keeping with Ashkenazy’s approach to the entire work, bringing the work to a glorious end.

There can be little doubt that Ashkenazy is a fine interpreter of the music of Rachmaninov and couple that with his deep relationship with the orchestra and we have the finest of all of Ashkenazy’s accounts of this work. This is a performance that I shall return to frequently and I cannot recommend it too strongly. It is essential listening for lovers of Rachmaninov’s orchestral music and Ashkenazy fans alike. On balance my top choice remains André Previn’s account with the London Symphony Orchestra on Warner Classics but others might disagree.

iClassical rating: 

Stream on Spotify or Idagio or buy from Presto Classical.