Two CDs, a Blu-ray of concert videos, and a hardcover book of words complement these recent performances of four (change of spelling) Rachmaninov works – you can take for granted superb sound and the Berliners’ virtuosity, polish and finesse. The Second Symphony (a live broadcast with a reduced audience, lockdown) is potent from the off, Kirill Petrenko integrating the first movement so that the power and passion that develops does so naturally, and also makes the repeat of the exposition inevitable – a measure of Petrenko’s ability to see the Symphony whole – neither exaggerated nor glossed over, each particular glowing, belonging, forming an unbreakable chain of events without falsehoods. A fiery Scherzo, flowing Adagio and resolute Finale complete the deal. The Isle of the Dead is mesmeric in its intensity and when reaching the thrilling (here punched out) climax, a lone rowboat on its regular journey underpinned by descriptive oars. The Second Piano Concerto, captured at the outdoor venue that is the Waldbühne, finds Kirill Gerstein in debonair form in league with KP and the BP for an attractively impromptu account that minimises extra-musical associations to advantage while ploughing a direct and expressive furrow to a grand and dashing conclusion questioned only by a spiky subito accelerando at 4:08 in the Finale. As for Rachmaninov’s swansong, the Symphonic Dances, for Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra, Petrenko’s well-judged tempos, clarity of rhythm and detail, and full appreciation of the music’s bittersweet nostalgia as well as its emotional edge and fire – demons within, unleashed at the end – and an inspired Philharmoniker response, complete a very recommendable release. BPHR 230461 is available from February.
Symphony No. 2 in E minor, op. 27
The Isle of the Dead, op. 29
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 2 in C minor, op. 18 (soloist: Kirill Gerstein)
Symphonic Dances, op. 45
The recordings were made at the Philharmonie Berlin on 15 February 2020, 16 January 2021, 20 March 2021, and at the Berlin Waldbühne on 25 June 2022.