Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 3, Shostakovich: Symphony No. 6 [André Previn, London Symphony Orchestra]

Composer(s):Sergei Rachmaninov
Conductor: Andr¨¦Previn
Orchestra: London Symphony Orchestra
Label: EMI
Catalog #: CDM 7 69564 2
Format: CD
Time: 75:05 min

A generous, if unlikely, coupling valuable above all for Previn's quite exceptional account of the Rachmaninov. It's a performance that breathes with and through the music: ebb and flow, colour and cast, that peculiar brand of melancholy¡ªall are beautifully conveyed. The nostalgic horn solo at the opening of the second movement still lingers in my mind. Here is true repose¡ªPrevin gives his soloist all the time in the world¡ªpoetic and hugely evocative, and as the yearning violin line grows from it, one is reminded yet again that the LSO of the day really were the perfect orchestra for this music. Their showy highgloss string sound, their bright keen-edged winds, are both such an asset in profiling this sparer and quirkier late Rachmaninov (the strange coloration of celeste¡ªan important feature of the orchestration¡ªand the resourceful deployment of harp and percussion tell most effectively).
The Shostakovich is less convincing. Previn's pacing is sure and purposeful, the desolate terrain of the spacious (in this instance very spacious) first movement is most atmospherically charted. But one looks for a colder, steelier intensity at times, and I think Previn, to some extent, underplays the contradictory shock-tactics of the second and third movements. I am not entirely sold on his deliberate, though undeniably trenchant, account of the scherzo, while the finale's circus-antics are to my mind neither sufficiently presto nor uncouth enough. The Rachmaninov, though, is a must, and both digital remasterings sound well.


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