Nézet-Séguin’s Lazy Rachmaninov First

Review by: David Hurwitz

Rach1YNS

Artistic Quality: 7

Sound Quality: 8

There’s something lazy about these performances, as if conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin assumes that the gorgeous playing of the Philadelphia Orchestra, with its fabled Rachmaninov tradition, absolves him of the need to make any positive contribution to the proceedings. The First Symphony is fleet and neat, but relatively passionless. Where is the explosion of sound that accompanies the opening statement of the symphony’s motto? The ferocity of the fugato in the central development section? And most tellingly, the grinding terror in the finale’s closing pages? Sure, this orchestra can do anything, but one listens in vain for the flame of inspiration that ignites the music’s volcanic emotions. It just sits there, smoldering.

The Symphonic Dances work better. This is a much cooler work expressively than the First Symphony–one that responds better to an interpretation that secures excellent playing and revels in the music’s vivid colors. Still, I can imagine a more intense account of the central waltz, and there’s more to the closing pages than the healthy tam-tam swat that hangs over the final, slashing chord. Make no mistake, Nézet-Séguin isn’t alone in expecting the orchestra to do most of the work. Charles Dutoit was even more tepid in his response to the music. Nevertheless, you don’t want to come away from a live recording of these works wondering if the conductor has any special feeling for Rachmaninov at all.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Symphony No. 1: Ashkenazy (Decca), Symphonic Dances: Jansons (Warner)


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