Slatkin Wraps Up A Superlative Rachmaninov Cycle

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 9

This recording of the First Symphony is arguably the finest since Ashkenazy’s with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra for Decca. Slatkin grinds out the opening bars with real menace, and he conceals the first movement’s episodic construction with flowing tempos and smartly managed transitions. The climax of the development section uses the glockenspiel part that seems to come and go in various recordings, but not the rest of the percussion that we find, say, with Litton on Virgin. Through it all the Detroit Symphony plays splendidly.

The crepuscular scherzo has an attractive lilt, while the Larghetto is just that: a small Largo, not one of Rachmaninov’s more hot and heavy statements in the mode of Symphony No. 2. Kudos to Slatkin for catching the movement’s gentle melancholy so well. As for the finale, it begins with plenty of the requisite panache, and culminates with a dark, powerful, and threatening coda that, if not quite as screamingly intense as Ashkenazy’s (the tempo is a bit quicker), comes as close as makes no difference. The trombones really put on a show here.

As for The Isle of the Dead, Slatkin’s performance doesn’t languish as some others do, and it’s all to the good. You really feel the five-in-a-bar rhythm in this performance, the lapping of the waves against the shore. The climaxes have tremendous impact, and the final appearance of the Dies irae sends a shiver down the spine. The work is all the more gripping for having such a strong rhythmic profile, and like the symphony it’s beautifully played (and recorded). Slatkin always has performed Rachmaninov as well as just about anyone alive today, and this cycle, quietly and with little fanfare as it has gradually appeared, sustains his reputation.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Symphony: Ashkenazy (Decca)

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