Rachmaninov: Symphony No 2, The Rock, Symphonic Dances and Piano Concertos 2 and 3

Symphony No 2, The Rock
Gianandrea Noseda

Symphonic Dances, The Rock
Vasily Petrenko

Piano Concertos 2 and 3
Simon Trpceski, Vasily Petrenko

Never have so many East European-trained conductors stood at the helm of British orchestras. The London scene is dominated by Valery Gergiev and Vladimir Jurowski, but on CD they face increasing competition from Vasily Petrenko at the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and Gianandrea Noseda at the Manchester-based BBC Philharmonic. Yes, Noseda is Italian but like Petrenko he served his apprenticeship in St Petersburg. It shows on his fine new Rachmaninov CD.

The main work is the Second Symphony – a lyrical, landscaped interpretation that eschews the hot-blooded abandon of Evgeni Svetlanov’s classic Moscow recordings. The Manchester brass are markedly less brazen than their Russian counterparts, but Noseda’s ear for line and colour is more than compensation, and in music that invites heart-on-sleeve vulgarity, the BBC Philharmonic’s refinement has its own validity, above all in a con amore slow movement.

The only Rachmaninov work duplicated by Noseda and Petrenko is an early tone poem, The Rock. Where Noseda puts a premium on temperamental intensity, emphasising the human drama in quasi-operatic mode, Petrenko opts for a lighter, impressionistic palette, evoking a balletic spirit-world. Both are exceptionally vivid accounts of an underrated work.

Petrenko, embarking on a complete Rachmaninov cycle, pairs The Rock with the equally atmospheric Isle of the Dead and a wonderfully alive and characterful account of the Symphonic Dances. Much of that character stems from Petrenko’s gift for subtly underlining contrasts of atmosphere and tempo, creating seductive rubatos in the central waltz and a luxuriant sound in the finale’s slow lament.

His concerto disc with Trpceski is less successful. The two musicians are unable to strike sparks in the Third Concerto, and Trpceski fails to delve beneath the Second Concerto’s sweet-sounding surface. The result is polished but bland.

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