RACHMANINOV Symphony No 2
This is the third time Mariss Jansons has committed Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony to commercial disc, following earlier versions with the Philharmonia Orchestra and the St Petersburg Philharmonic. Or is it the fourth? At least some of the source material would appear to be shared with the rendition featured in RCO Live’s anthology ‘Mariss Jansons Live – The Radio Recordings 1990 2014’ (RCO15002). The packaging cites three concert dates this time, January 28 29 and 31, 2010.
The resulting edit is enjoyable even if Jansons has limited interest in notions of ‘authenticity’. Like many conductors trained in Soviet Russia he has never abandoned the timpani thwack on the final note of the first movement, underpinning (or undermining, according to taste) its final unison E on cellos and basses, and he still adds a vulgarising cymbal crash before the restatement of the second theme in the finale. He also has a trumpet double the ‘big tune’ at the climax of the third movement. This might seem unacceptable to some; but where André Previn’s famous LSO recording lets the argument unfold naturally on a cushion of string sound, Jansons has always been more interventionist. While his speeds have slowed a little and the Concertgebouw acoustic imparts a softer grain, much is as it always has been: the rubato personal and touching, the sudden pianissimos positively breathtaking (unless you judge them to be overdone), the textures shimmery and iridescent, flecked with woodwind colour others miss.
The problems come with the finale. You will doubtless have heard more propulsive interpretations yet Jansons still gets through the movement in 13'17", including a perhaps deliberately misleading swathe of terminal applause. How does he do it? By means of tactful pruning! The first return of the forceful opening material (ie between the quietly conspiratorial march interlude and the delayed arrival of another of the composer’s ‘big tunes’) is here truncated in the manner favoured by Kurt Sanderling 60 years ago. ‘Authenticity’ of a different kind perhaps. This seems a pity when tempi are otherwise judicious and the structure finely balanced; but the St Petersburg recording is the one to go for.