Perhaps the greatest Rachmaninov conductor working today conducts the London Symphony Orchestra in the first of a series of recordings of the Russian composer's symphonies. Symphony No 2 was a wise choice for kicking off the series: one of Rachmaninov's master pieces, this huge, rich and expansive work was first performed in 1908, more than 10 years after the disastrous premiere of his Symphony No 1. The dark yearning associated with his work resonates from the first cello and double bass motif and the wistful violins in the largo to the shimmering climaxes that punctuate each of the movements. The beauty of this symphony comes in its sheer variety and pervasive sense of possibility - behind every gloomy, moody cloud is a silvery lining played out in piercing brass and glinting woodwind. The second movement, a vigorous scherzo introduced with a punchy horn motif, sweeps you along in martial style, and the final movement, an allegro vivace, intersperses its celebratory theme with serenely romantic melodies. Gergiev seamlessly develops these changes of tempo and rhythm, effortlessly controlling the orchestra's pace and maintaining the clarity that Rachmaninov valued so highly but is easily lost in such lush orchestration. The LSO excels with a performance that is technically tight yet never less than gripping and often actively thrilling.
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