Rachmaninoff – Symphony No. 2 / Previn

More of the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

More TAS List Super Discs

  • You’ll find excellent Double Plus (A++) sound throughout this vintage British EMI pressing of Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2
  • A long term resident of the TAS Super Disc list, and one I never realized was anything special until my stereo got a lot better about ten or fifteen years ago
  • There are a few marks that play, but EMI’s from this era always seemed to have one problem or another, so this is not surprising – there’s simply no way around these issues if the superior sound of vintage analog is important to you
  • This recording of the work is guaranteed to put to shame any Heavy Vinyl pressing of this music you may own

This vintage UK pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

What The Best Sides Of Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 Have To Offer Is Not Hard To Hear

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1973
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

Copies with rich lower mids and nice extension up top did the best in our shootout, assuming they weren’t veiled or smeary of course. So many things can go wrong on a record! We know, we’ve heard them all.

Top end extension is critical to the sound of the best copies. Lots of old records (and new ones) have no real top end; consequently, the studio or stage will be missing much of its natural air and space, and instruments will lack their full complement of harmonic information.

Tube smear is common to most vintage pressings. The copies that tend to do the best in a shootout will have the least (or none), yet are full-bodied, tubey and rich.

What We’re Listening For On Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Powerful bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

1st Movement : Largo – Allegro Moderato
2nd Movement : Scherzo (Allegro Molto)

Side Two

3rd Movement : Adagio
4th Movement : Finale (Allegro Vivace)

Wiki on Symphony No. 2

The Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Op. 27 by Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff was written from October 1906 to April 1907. The premiere was performed at the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg on 26 January 1908, with the composer conducting. Its duration is approximately 60 minutes when performed uncut; cut performances can be as short as 35 minutes. The score is dedicated to Sergei Taneyev, a Russian composer, teacher, theorist, author, and pupil of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The piece remains one of the composer’s most popular and best known compositions.

At the time his Symphony No. 2 was composed, Rachmaninoff had had two successful seasons as the conductor of the Imperial Opera at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. He considered himself first and foremost a composer and felt that the performance schedule was detracting from his time to compose.

He then moved with his wife and infant daughter to Dresden, Germany, to spend more time composing and to also escape the political tumult that would put Russia on the path to revolution. The family remained in Dresden for three years, spending summers at Rachmaninoff’s in-law’s estate of Ivanovka. It was during this time that Rachmaninoff wrote not only his Second Symphony, but also the tone poem Isle of the Dead.

Rachmaninoff was not altogether convinced that he was a gifted symphonist. At its 1897 premiere, his Symphony No. 1 (conducted by Alexander Glazunov) was considered an utter disaster; criticism of it was so harsh that it sent the young composer into a bout of depression. Even after the success of his Piano Concerto No. 2 (which won the Glinka Award and 500 rubles in 1904), Rachmaninoff still lacked confidence in his writing. He was very unhappy with the first draft of his Second Symphony but after months of revision he finished the work and conducted the premiere in 1908 to great applause. The work earned him another Glinka Award ten months later. The triumph restored Rachmaninoff’s sense of self-worth as a symphonist.

Because of its formidable length, Symphony No. 2 has been the subject of many revisions, particularly in the 1940s and 1950s, which reduced the piece from nearly an hour to as little as 35 minutes. Before 1970 the piece was usually performed in one of its revised, shorter, versions. Since then orchestras have used the complete version almost exclusively, although sometimes with the omission of a repeat of the exposition in the first movement.

Scoring

The symphony is scored for full orchestra with 3 flutes (3rd doubling piccolo), 3 oboes (3rd doubling cor anglais), 2 clarinets in A and B♭, bass clarinet in A and B♭, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, snare drum, bass drum, cymbals, glockenspiel, and strings.

Movements

The symphony is in four movements:

  • Largo – Allegro moderato (E minor)
  • Allegro molto (A minor)
  • Adagio (A major)
  • Allegro vivace (E major)

First movement

The first movement begins with a slow, dark introduction, in which the ‘motto’ theme of the symphony is introduced and developed. This leads to an impassioned climax, after which a cor anglais solo leads the movement into the allegro in sonata form, consisting of the first subject derived from the ‘motto’ and second subject. Assuming the symphony is performed uncut, this also includes a full repeat of the exposition.

In contrast to the exposition, the development is stormy at times and moves through multiple key centres. Only the central motto theme and first subject are used in the development.

After a long dominant pedal, the music slowly transitions to the recapitulation in E major, in which only the second subject is recapitulated, but is heavily expanded on compared to the exposition. This device of omitting the first subject from the recapitulation, as it was already used in the development, was also used by Tchaikovsky in his second, fourth and sixth symphonies.

The coda in E minor resumes the style and temple of the development as it builds up intensely and the movement culminates in two fortissimo outbursts.

Second movement

This movement really only resembles a scherzo insofar as it relates to the early- to mid-Romantic tradition of symphonic movements, and its use of a typical scherzo form (ABACABA). However, it is in 2/2, while the typical scherzo would be in 3/4 or some kind of triple meter. The movement, in A minor, opens with a lively ostinato in the upper strings. As a fixture in large-scale works by Rachmaninoff, the Dies Irae plainchant is referenced, here in the opening bars by the horns.

The B section is a lyrical cantabile melody in C major. The music slows down and the opening ostinato is referenced, and in returning to the A section it abruptly speeds back up to its opening tempo. The central trio section notably begins with a sudden, tutti, fortissimo B Dominant 7th chord, and is an example of Rachmaninoff’s mastery of counterpoint and fugal writing, thanks to his studies with Taneyev, to whom this symphony is dedicated. At the conclusion of the movement, the Dies Irae is again stated, this time by a brass choir. The momentum dissolves and ends pianississimo (ppp).

Third movement

This movement is in a broad three-part form, and is often remembered for its opening theme, which is played by the first violins and restated both as a melody and as an accompanying figure later on in the movement. This opening theme, however, is really an introduction to the main melody of the movement, which is presented by a lengthy clarinet solo, and is a typical Rachmaninoff creation, circling around single notes and accompanied by rich harmony.

The development is based on the Dies Irae motto theme of the symphony, as if it was continued on from the first movement’s introduction. A chromatic buildup leads to an impassioned climax in C major.

The intensity subsides, and the central melody of the third movement is restated, this time played by the first violins, while fragments of the opening theme are heard in the accompaniment. The Dies Irae motto is restated again apparently to bring about an ending to complement the first movement introduction, as the third movement concludes in a tranquil fashion dying away slowly in the strings.

Fourth movement

The final movement is set in sonata form. The lively, fanfare-like first theme, derived from the first “Dies Irae”-like theme of the Scherzo, is played by the entire orchestra, leading into a march-like interlude starting in G# minor played by woodwind.

After the return of the first theme, the first subject is concluded, and transitions directly into the second theme which is a massive, broad melody in D major played by strings. After dying down to pianissimo, the opening theme of the third movement, this time in D major, is briefly recalled over string tremolos. After an abrupt interjection of the main themes from the second and first movements, the development section begins, which is in two sections, the first of which introduces new melodic ideas, and the latter of which revolves around a descending scale.

The recapitulation initially only presents the first theme, before moving into a dominant pedal, building up to the triumphant restatement of the second theme now in the home key of E major, in which fragments of the first theme, motto theme, and descending scale can be heard in the accompaniment. A whirlwind coda brings the symphony to a close, with a fortissimo restatement of the brass chorale that appeared at the end of the second movement. The final bars present another fixture of Rachmaninoff’s large-scale works, the characteristic decisive four-note rhythm ending (in this case presented in a triplet rhythm), also heard in his Cello Sonata, second and third piano concertos, and in an altered form in his fourth piano concerto and Symphonic Dances.

Leave a Reply