Rachmaninov drafted his Second Symphony in a charming garden villa in Dresden, where he had settled with family in late 1906; he told his friend Nikita Morozov in February 1907 of ‘a mood of anguish, apathy and disgust at what I’ve been doing in my work’. Rumours of a new symphony were true, he added, but he had put it aside for a while because it had become ‘terribly boring and repulsive’ to him. Once past the complex first movement, however, each of the remaining three came to life in a matter of weeks, and the work in toto is a worthy successor to Tchaikovsky’s symphonies, as well as an intriguing example of a new cosmopolitanism in European orchestral work, no less than the Eastern influences being absorbed at the time by Mahler and Debussy.
The second movement can to our ears now sound like Bruckner meets John Williams; that kind of cinematic breadth has assured the slow movement and its famous clarinet tune of immortality and a special place even among the work of one of the most assured of last century’s melodists. Underneath, however, is that surging melancholy and longing for an elusive homeland that characterises all of Rachmaninov’s greatest music.
Valery Gergiev is a renowned master of such qualities, pre-eminent among modern Russian conductors and unrivalled in his commitment to Russian music old and new. This recording was made with ‘his’ orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg.
“As in his opera recordings, Gergiev gives a strong and well-paced reading. Although he takes what one might think of as a more traditional approach, he brings an appropriate warmth and also possesses
considerable command of the architecture.”
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