Rachmaninov: Symphony No 1 in D minor, Op 13; Balakirev: Tamara

Reviewed on Fri 23 Sep, 2016

Reconstructed after Rachmaninov's death from the surviving orchestral parts, the symphony is a fearlessly ambitious, tightly organised and thrillingly passionate creation that seems to reveal some new, subtly woven detail with each hearing.

Valery Gergiev rounds off his Rachmaninov symphony cycle for LSO Live with this typically red-blooded account of the First, whose shambles of a premiere in March 1897 under an ill-prepared (and allegedly inebriated) Alexander Glazunov plunged the 23-year-old composer into a deep depression. Reconstructed after Rachmaninov's death from the surviving orchestral parts, it is a fearlessly ambitious, tightly organised and thrillingly passionate creation that seems to reveal some new, subtly woven detail with each hearing – one of the most remarkable of all Russian symphonies, in fact, and an astonishing achievement for one so young. Vividly captured within the dryish, somewhat unflattering acoustic of London's Barbican Hall, Gergiev and the LSO give a thrusting, satisfyingly cogent account not dissimilar to Zoltán Kocsis's exciting live Budapest rendering with his Hungarian National PO on BMC, though both here and in Balakirev's intoxicating, sumptuously atmospheric tone-poem Tamara they are outflanked at every turn by those hair-raisingly intense analogue recordings featuring the legendary Evgeny Svetlanov and the USSR SO. Still, if the coupling appeals (and it certainly should), there's no real need to hold back.
–Andrew Achenbach