RACHMANINOFF:  Symphony No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 27.  Vocalise
Cincinnati Symphony Orch/Jesus López-Cobos, cond.

TELARC CD 80543 (F) (DDD)  TT:  65:47

Jesus López-Cobos plays this symphony in the modern style, lyrical but cool. His attention to the frequent "hairpin" dynamics assures that the luxurious melodies sing out -- the tone sweet rather than lush -- and the climaxes blossom with an easy surge and sweep. And, when a particular passage inspires him, he is most impressive. His segmented treatment of the symphonyís opening immediately whets the listener's anticipation; later in the movement, the woodwinds touch in the third theme with breathtaking delicacy. The brass chorales after cue 35 in the scherzo are purposefully shaped; the Adagio's big climax gradually, inexorably scales down to an ethereal rising violin line.

But other passages, lacking such specific insight, seem to have no clear purpose, played just because they're there. The clarinetist phrases the Adagio solos tenderly, but the violas' responses just before cue 53 are flat and deadpan. The woodwinds, and later the brasses, go "bump" into the Finale's second subject, missing its spring. Some such laissez-faire passages betray the conductor's apparent technical shortcomings. The first movement development sounds particularly loose, its coordination approximate, the textures unsorted; but tempo and rhythmic insecurities pop up everywhere, save in the incisive Scherzo. The horns speak sluggishly in ensemble, and the principal doesn't quite simulate full legato in the Adagio after cue 52. On the other hand, the Cincinnati strings, though generally lightweight, are secure and powerful in the highest ranges for the finale's climactic tutti.

López-Cobos spins out the Vocalise in long lines of gossamer, underlining its wistful nostalgia. Like most performances nowadays, the symphony is "uncut," though the first-movement repeat is omitted.

Telarc's engineering is excellent. The deep drum thwacks and powerful bass presence are only the most conspicuous parts of the picture. More musically impressive is the brass reproduction, combining pinpoint imaging with an almost tactile depth -- no "digital shrillness" here. Woodwind soli are warm and round, major horn lines register in sharp relief, and the tuttis are rich and full.

S.F.V.(Oct. 2001)