RACHMANINOFF:  Symphony No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 27.
National Symphony Orch. of Ireland/Alexander Anissimov, cond
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NAXOS 8.554230 (B) (DDD)  TT:  58:06

Anissimov made a strong first impression with his Naxos recordings of Glazunov's Raymonda and The Seasons ballets, and followed these with an endearing albeit second-tier version of Rachmaninov's Third Symphony. Then, in the complete symphonies of Glazunov, it was downhill after the first issue, pretty much like the works themselves. Not much muscle-tone, in other words, suggesting a 98-pound-weakling. He's back on track, however, with this uncut version of Rachmaninov's Second Symphony—at least I think it's uncut; Symphony No. 2 is one of the Rachy works I don't have a score for, wherein lies a tale I'll keep brief. In the '50s and '60s, performances were ubiquitous, at least in and around Chicago, to the point where I couldn't hear another without risking a mid-course departure, cursing and screaming. Almost all were of the cut version, which the composer sanctioned, by conductors with straining muscles who tended to dash through what was left. Beethoven Seventh was similarly done-to-death at the time, on discs as well as in concerts— like Mahler in the '80s and '90s.

Anyhow, absence has made the heart grow fonder toward Rachmaninov's E-minor, if not those Robo-cop versions that filled up store-bins before the classical business went poof, like Honey's false pregnancies in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. I used to have Maazel's DGG version with the Berlin Phil, but must have given it away—it was Olympian, an odd musical posture for Rachmaninov, but Berliners on holiday from Karajan played the hell out of it in a pre-Philharmonie recording site that yielded rich, chocolatey sound.

Nothing like that in Anissimov's version, which is more like chamber music with a very good second-level orchestra based in Dublin, where this performance was recorded in March 1997.

That is not to say, however, that it fails to erupt where the composer wrote a double- or triple-forte. The ending especially is an all-stops-out capstone, as it should be, while the first movement works up a head of steam even though Anissimov fondles it for nearly 21 minutes. But he reveals all manner of sweetness, rhythmically as well as harmonically, that most autobahn-type colleagues in Beemers and Benzes turn into road-kill. When melodies beg to bloom, Anissimov proves himself a master gardener (sorry about mixed metaphors but both do apply).

The National Concert Hall in the Guinness and shamrock capital sounds full-throated, with a wallop where called for. Timings for the movements are 20:44 / 10:41 / 14:46 / 11:55, which only in the finale could mean a cut of one or more repetitions in what is, structurally, a 9-part rondo. I didn't miss anything but committed Rachmaninovians might, if there's anything to be missed.

At the price, a recommended investment even if you have a version or several already.

R.D. (April 2001)