Rachmaninoff – Symphony No.1; Symphonic Dances
Philadelphia Orchestra; Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Deutsche Grammophon 12192 (deutschegrammophon.com/en/catalogue/products/rachmaninoff-symphony-no-1-symphonic-dances-nezet-seguin-12192)
Imagine you have the entire Deutsche Grammophon catalogue, a whole wall covered in shelving designed for CD’s, each spine of every disc displaying the well-known colours. Lucky you! Just now, taking pride of place is this sparkling new release, the Philadelphia Orchestra led by Yannick Nézet-Séguin performing Rachmaninoff’s First Symphony Op.13 and Symphonic Dances Op.45 (his final published work).
What to praise first? Recording quality, which whisks you around the sections of this fabulous orchestra as, one by one, they show off their mastery of dynamics, technical agility, musical insight; and most of all, the unheard presence channelling the composer through the players before him, the young (still young!) maestro from Quebec. Possibly no composer offers better witness to Nézet-Séguin’s mastery. With seamless logic, he links the furioso character of the Allegro ma non troppo first movement to its episodes of pathos. Every detail is considered and brought forth. This recording is an encounter with deep Russian melancholia, and Philadelphia’s legendary warm sound is the perfect medium for the maestro’s skill.
Interesting to pair this youthful early symphony, from 1895, with the Symphonic Dances, composed in 1940, when Rachmaninoff was living in California. Poorly received as it was at the premiere, the symphony is incredibly ambitious, and if tonally conservative, it offers glimpses of the strange wonderful paths the 22-year-old would soon follow. Make yourself wait before letting this recording of the Dances deliver you into another world of wonder. If the engineers have filed off any “edge” in the sound, there’s punch and beauty in spades, and a luxurious gong fade at the end!