Rattle Whiffs On Rachmaninov’s Second

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 5

Sound Quality: 8

Does Simon Rattle do anything consistently well aside from Szymanowski? I mean, for what music does he show a special affinity? What composers does he interpret that make you look forward to his next release? I can’t think of any. I doubt he can either. Rattle made a splendid Rachmaninov disc in Berlin, containing the Symphonic Dances and The Bells, but this version of the Second Symphony is a non-starter. It’s not horrible, mind you, just mediocre and dull at every turn. There’s no wistfulness or yearning in the opening introduction, with contrasts insufficiently with the main body of the first movement. Rattle seems not to know how to build a climax–and if the climaxes fizzle in a work like this, then really, what’s the point? Rattle admirably refrains from adding timpani to the double basses’ final note at the movement’s end, but then, why doesn’t he insist that they play it as loudly as Rachmaninov demands? Here it sounds like a mistake.

The Scherzo is swift, light, and featureless in its lack of characterful accentuation and bite. The central fugato, in contrast, sounds too heavy. And these are the better parts. The Adagio is totally, utterly lifeless and devoid of passion. You’ll be bored within thirty seconds of its start. By the time the Finale erupts–er, saunters in–it’s quite clear that everyone involved is simply tired. Listening through it is an ordeal. The promotional material for this disc tells us that Rattle conducted the symphony from memory, as if (a) that means something as regards the audible results, and (b) memorizing a score is a big deal. There’s no question that Rattle has within him, somewhere, in the bowels of his being, the ability to deliver first class Rachmaninov. So does the LSO–they did it for Previn, after all. They don’t do it here. Ultimately, Rattle remains a cypher. He’s made so many recordings of so much repertoire that it should be clear where his strengths lie, but it’s not. And so I ask again: Just what do you do especially well, Mr. Rattle?

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Temirkanov (Warner)

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