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The dedicatee (Ormandy) and his Philadelphia players are scrupulously alive to tone and colour and while others are more demonstrative and brilliant the Sony version (recorded 19 March 1960, originally on Columbia Masterworks MS-6205) has a structural exactitude seldom equalled.

Even better, Previn and the LS0 (1973) combine fire with deep understanding; furthermore its sound is preferable to Sony (above) which, for all the virtues, is showing its age. At that time, 34 years ago, Previn directed a number of almost peerless recorded works though, a decade later Decca brought out their Symphonic Dances trump card release, with Ashkenazy and the Concertgebouw Orchestra.

Since that Decca winner the Op 45 has had even more recording companies in on the act with further conductors displaying a symphonic approach, paying a little extra attention to Rachmaninov's innovative orchestration. Several of these are significantly longer: ie Svetlanov (37:27 minutes); similar to today's Russians -- Valery Polyansky and Mikhail Pletnev (37 minutes) -- cf David Zinman with the Baltimore Symphony (34 minutes) and others of similar 'balletic' brilliance.

Here in Warner's offering Svetlanov's affinity with Rachmaninov's daring idioms is always apparent. In addition to an intelligent observation of inner balance he presides over powerful rhythms, a measured quotient of outright brilliance, and breathtaking poetry; the haunting alto sax lament in the first dance is a case in point [listen -- track 1, 4:21-5:32].

In a troubled Andante con moto the shifting lights are beautifully realized and the finale proceeds with passion and meditation; foreboding and acceptance.

Rachmaninov's combination of the 13th Century Latin Dies Irae ('Day of Wrath') and his own antithetical ninth 'Vesper' for choir a capella has few parallels and via these Svetlanov brings the work to a compelling yet provocative conclusion [listen -- track 3, 13:08-14:45].

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Copyright © 21 August 2007 Howard Smith, Masterton, New Zealand


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