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CD Review

Sergei Rachmaninoff

Symphonic Dances

Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy
* Cleveland Orchestra/George Szell
Sony SK48279 76min
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Ormandy makes a very strong case for Rachmaninoff's last orchestral work. He selects a deliberate pace for I (especially when compared to the demonic frenzy of Previn's explosive account, recently reissued on EMI along with Rachmaninoff's three symphonies), but this uniquely concentrated reading is never sluggish. Indeed, Ormandy's understated approach brings tremendous excitement and passion to the score, and along the way he uncovers all sorts of wonderful details in the orchestration. Only the sleazy saxophone solo – with its fruity vibrato – detracts from the enjoyment of I. The ethereal restatement of the theme by the glowing Philadelphia strings more than compensates for this momentary lapse of taste. In the final two movements, Ormandy finds more subtlety and shimmering beauty than anyone, except perhaps for Semyon Bychkov, who has yet to record the score commercially. Sony's distant, faded sound (circa 1960) lacks the immediacy and impact of later recordings by either De Waart or Previn, but don't let that deter you from adding this exceptional disc to your library.

Ormandy's Gaîté Parisienne is colorful and lively, and again the Philadelphia strings are a joy to hear. Bernstein had more fun with this ballet, but Ormandy gives you more of the complete score at a bargain price. Szell fills out this excellent reissue with his warm and loving interpretation of the Bartered Bride dances. Nicole Ristow's notes (in English, French, and Italian) are informative, and Sony should be commended for not wasting paper on promotional fluff for other discs in this low priced, but high quality series.

Copyright © 1996, Tom Godell