Litton’s Bergen Rachmaninov: Very Good, But…

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 7

Sound Quality: 10

Andrew Litton’s first series of Rachmaninov recordings, for Virgin, was excellent; there’s no doubt that he has a real feel for this music. That affinity is certainly in evidence here, especially in The Isle of the Dead, which is perfectly paced, texturally transparent, and powerful at the climaxes. The Rock, an early and less characteristic work, also is very beautiful and sounds better as a composition than it probably is, again a function of intelligent tempo choices and a keen ear for instrumental color.

What problems there are mostly concern the Symphonic Dances. While sharing many of the same qualities of the other two pieces, the performance simply fails to catch fire. The first movement drags ever so slightly, perhaps a side effect of Litton’s small rhythmic hesitations at the climaxes. Those curious brass sonorities at the start of the second-movement waltz fail to snap and snarl as they should, while the coda of the finale (at the quotation of the Vespers chant) is entirely too gentle, a fact only emphasized by the blazing conclusion. For those who are interested, Litton cuts off the last chord sharply, with no reverberating tam-tam, and does it better than just about anyone else—but this last bit of excitement doesn’t compensate for the prior low voltage.

As usual from this source, BIS’s sonics are magnificently natural. This only emphasizes the fact that the Bergen strings haven’t quite the richness and heft that the music ideally demands (check out the second movement of the Dances). In short, despite some very good moments and glittering SACD sonics, this is not quite the bull’s eye that it might have been.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Dances: Jansons (EMI)

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