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Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 1
Regarded as one of the most remarkable composers of the twentieth century, Serge Rachmaninoff wrote three romantically inclined symphonies, two of which are now standard orchestral repertoire. However, the premiere of Symphony No. 1 was such a disaster that Rachmaninoff refrained from composing anything more for the next three years. The conductor, Glazunov, is reputed to have been drunk, and Rachmaninoff was unable to attend the entire performance. He reacted by tearing up the score. Thankfully for posterity, the instrumental parts were preserved and rediscovered in 1945, permitting the work to be restored. It is a work full of youthful fervour, distinctive and sweeping themes, and nationalist sentiments, and is now widely regarded as a vivid example of his early talent. It is complemented here by the ‘Youth Symphony’, the first movement of a projected but never completed symphony in D minor, composed when Rachmaninoff was only seventeen, and the great symphonic poem The Isle of the Dead, inspired by Arnold Böcklin’s painting of the same name which Rachmaninoff had seen on display in Paris in 1907.
Composed in 1909, it is still a relatively early work, but contains some of the dark Russian spiritual qualities which Rachmaninoff was to develop further in his later compositions.
“Rachmaninov's First Symphony...here receives a landmark performance from the BBC Philharmonic and Gianandrea Noseda. When you listen to it alongside a mature masterpiece, particularly such a darkly atmospheric performance of The Isle of the Dead as this one, it is possible to appreciate how Rachmaninov could deem passages in the symphony to be "weak, childish, forced and bombastic", yet Noseda demonstrates the music's power, eloquent beauty and structural cohesion.
Written when he was still in his late teens, the First Symphony already displays distinctive Rachmaninov fingerprints in harmonic terms and in the shaping of melodic ideas, and is in the grip of the fatalism that is rarely absent from his music. Noseda and the BBC Philharmonic recognise this general tenor, but the spectrum for expression of it is broad, from vigorous passion in the first movement and finale to the wistful rumination of the central Larghetto.” The Telegraph, 21st June 2008
“Nothing could be more liquid or gloomy than [Noseda's] reading of the superb symphonic poem The Isle of the Dead. His gifts for mood-juggling and structural flow ensure equally fine accounts of the student Youth Symphony and the composer’s official, stormy Symphony No 1. The full Chandos sound makes everything glow in the dark, especially the shadowy scherzo.” The Times, 6th June 2008 ****
“With the BBC Phil, he delves deep into the dark, gloomy recesses of the Russian soul, brilliantly evoking the composer’s brooding, headily chromatic tone poem The Isle of the Dead...Chandos’s brilliant recording [of Symphony 1] enhances a performance that takes us on an emotional rollercoaster ride: the passion and despair of the composer’s unrequited love for a married woman is drawn with febrile drama here.” Sunday Times, 1st June 2008 ****
“Rachmaninov's First Symphony of 1895... published only after the composer's death. Gianandrea Noseda and the BBC Philharmonic have the work's measure and their performance has a full-blooded intensity and fire. The Isle of the Dead, haunting and powerful in conception, is an undisputed masterpiece. Noseda captures the work's concentration and anguish with its inexorable sense of movement.” BBC Music Magazine, July 2008 *****
“Accomplished and easy to enjoy; but, in a crowded marketplace, not really a front-runner.” Gramophone Magazine, August 2008
BBC Music Magazine
Orchestral Choice - July 2008
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“A superb recording in an excellent acoustic and with the absolute top-flight of orchestral conductors. Buy it and enjoy - you won't regret it.” MusicWeb International
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Rachmaninov: Complete Symphonies & Orchestral Works
This series of live recordings was made at the 2007 Rachmaninov Festival in Sydney and features one of the foremost interpreters of Rachmaninov’s music, the conductor and pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy. Since 2008 Ashkenazy has been Principal Conductor and Artistic Adviser of the orchestra which appeared in these performances, the Sydney Symphony. This CD set, which contains all of the composer’s symphonies and orchestral works, also includes session recordings produced at the same time which have never been previously heard.
Rachmaninov himself stated “In my own compositions, no conscious effort has been made to be original or Romantic or Nationalistic or anything else. I write down on paper the music that I hear within me as naturally as possible. What I try to do in my music is to make it say simply and directly what is in my heart when I am composing.”
In the years since Vladimir Ashkenazy first came to prominence on the world stage in the 1955 Chopin Competition in Warsaw he has not only become one of the most revered pianists of our times, but also a renowned music director and conductor. Conducting has formed the largest part of his activities for the past 20 years and, following on from his period as Chief Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic from 1998 to 2003, Ashkenazy took up the position of Music Director of NHK Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo in September 2004. He continues to have a warm and rewarding relationship with London’s Philharmonia Orchestra as their Conductor Laureate, as well as maintaining strong links with a number of other major orchestras, including the Cleveland Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, and the Deutsches Symphonie Orchester, Berlin.
“there is an advantage to hearing a leaner account of [the Second Symphony]; and Ashkenazy's pacing of it makes us welcome the first-movement repeat. Horns, both stopped and open, lend urgency to dramatic moments” BBC Music Magazine, February 2011 ****
“For me the set's plum has to be the Second Symphony, which I found utterly engrossing in its natural ebb and flow (Ashkenazy's control of rubato is as organic as it is shapely), tender vulnerability, unassuming cogency and sheer integrity… …The Isle of the Dead enshrines another deeply compassionate conception, while the hugely involving traversal of the Symphonic Dances leaves the listener in no doubt of Ashkenazy's comprehensive familiarity with, and rapt empathy for, this devastatingly powerful masterpiece.” Gramophone Magazine, April 2009
“their alacrity of response to the music's technical requirements as well as to Ashkenazy's interpretative convictions should not be doubted.” International Record Review, January 2011
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