Paavo Jarvi conducting the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra
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Estonian conductor Neeme Jarvi has an enormously wide-range of recordings. He seemingly hardly ever encountering repertory he didn't feel comfortable in tackling. Based on his ten recordings so far for Telarc, Neeme's son Paavo appears to be truly a chip off the old block.
Rachmaninoff's Second Symphony would not on the face of it appear to be a terribly difficult conductorial challenge. Its lush romantic themes and conventional tempi are far easier to negotiate than the complicated time signatures and jagged melodies of composers such as Stravinsky and Lutoslawski, whose music Jarvi has successfully presented in previous Telarc releases. The challenge here is to convey this symphony's dark, brooding mood, its essential "Russian-ness." And it is in that challenge where this recording falls a bit short.
Jarvi and his Cincinnati players offer us a good, reliable traversal of the symphony. His choices of tempi seem generally acceptable, and the orchestral playing is competent and professional. What this performance lacks, however, is that "Russian-ness." If I did not know this symphony so well, and heard this recording unannounced on the radio, I might think it was some newly discovered piece by Dvorak or one of his Czech contemporaries. Jarvi's reading sounds generally Slavic, but I think he misses capturing the authentic feeling of Russian romanticism.
To get the difference, one need only to listen to Ivan Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra on Channel Classics, for me the very best recording of this Symphony, or to the very dramatic reading by Mikhail Pletnev and the Russian National Orchestra on DG. Vinyl lovers should also look for the sweet-sounding original version from Andre Previn and the London Symphony on the EMI label.
The fillers are a welcome bonus. The Scherzo was the composer's first orchestral work. Its importance is mainly due to that, but I was happy to make its acquaintance. The gypsy-ish dances from Aleko are minor but charming, and nicely presented here.
The SACD sound is up to the excellent standard that Telarc has established recently.