Ticciati’s Beguiling Rachmaninov Second Symphony

Review by: Victor Carr Jr

Ticciati-Rachmaninov-2-copy

Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

Rachmaninov’s Second is the quintessential Russian symphony; that’s certainly the view of many Russian conductors who play the work as a mash-up of Rimsky Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, and Glazunov, with a little bit of Kalinnikov thrown in for good measure. The usual Russian-style performance employs swift tempos (super-swift with Pletnev), string-dominant textures, and prominent brass emphasizing the main melodic line above all else.

But there’s much that gets lost in that snow-swept, rushing style–details that we hear clearly in Robin Ticciati’s more patient (not to mean slow or dull) reading. The conductor’s painstaking and probing approach conveys his deep respect for the score, revealing it to be a true masterwork of melody, counterpoint, and orchestration rather than just a collection of big tunes with a lot of breathless scampering in between. Indeed, hearing all this detail is such a pleasurable experience that you don’t miss the dopamine-rushes expected from the typical “intense” performances.

That is until you hear Slatkin with the Detroit Symphony on Naxos, who similarly emphasizes the music’s aural beauty, but better balances this with a necessary urgency. And I would have preferred that Ticciati’s timpani provided more sharp-edged playing, and that he let the brass project a bit more in tutti passages.

That said, he does inspire alert, lively, committed, and euphonious playing from the Deutsches Symphony Orchestra, among the finest of any recorded version. Linn’s spacious and detailed sound is at one with the interpretation.

This is a performance to be actively listened to rather than heard on autopilot. Ticciati’s way encourages you to focus, which makes the experience far more rewarding.

There are so, so many fine versions of Rachmaninov’s Second symphony, and as much as I enjoy colleague David Hurwitz’s “The Best” series of videos, this is one of those works that stubbornly resists being confined to one ideal performance. I greatly enjoy Ivan Fischer’s, but would not want to be without Temirkanov 1 (EMI/Warner), Slatkin, or Pletnev, and now must add Ticciati as a necessary alternate version.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Slatkin (Naxos); Temirkanov (EMI/Warner); Pletnev (DG)


    Deustches Symphonie-Orchester, Berlin, Robin Ticciati


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