08 Rachmaninoff 2Rachmaninoff – Symphony No.2
Sinfonia of London; John Wilson
Chandos CHSA5309 (chandos.net/products/catalogue/CHAN%205309)

Many music lovers are most familiar with Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, but there was a time that the most often heard and performed pieces were his Prelude in C-sharp Minor for piano and the Symphony No.2 in E Minor. This newly released CD, with John Wilson conducting the Sinfonia of London, features outstanding recordings of these two old favourites. The first ever performance of the second symphony was conducted by the composer in Saint Petersburg on February 9, 1908 and it won the Glinka Award that year, one of five Rachmaninoff received in his lifetime. 

We all know how the symphony opens, usually with a full orchestra, but Wilson has chosen to interpret the score a little differently. Instead of the dynamic sounds we’re used to, he conducts it as a more Romantic piece; perhaps it’s the balance of the strings that gives it this quality. Regardless, it didn’t take many listening sessions before I thought it sounded natural and was very comfortable with this “new-to-me” version. In truth, it sounds perfectly correct, (no shade to any other version). A sumptuous performance of the Prelude Op.3 No.2 for solo piano orchestrated by Leopold Stokowski opens the disc.  

Wilson came to prominence conducting Hollywood film scores, most notably at the Proms in London and on recordings for Chandos with the John Wilson Orchestra. More recently he has revived the Sinfonia of London, an all-star orchestra of top London musicians and has branched further afield. He is in great demand as a guest conductor in the UK and Europe, but surprisingly has appeared scarcely at all in the United States or Canada. Hopefully that will change!

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