Spanish orchestra records Rachmaninov: that’s one to break-down preconceptions.
This first recording on its own label for Orquesta Sinfónica de Castilla y León (see news-item link below) opens with Isle of the Dead (inspired by Böcklin’s painting, reproduced in the booklet, although the composer saw a monochrome print), a linear and lucid account conducted by Andrew Gourlay. It’s not the most implacable or remorseless of versions (a slightly slower tempo and a heavier heart are needed for that) but it is clear-sighted and wholesome, vividly detailed. The sound-quality is excellent, truthful enough to suggest that the OSCyL strings are too few in number, six double basses are shown in a photo, but there is no denying the players’ enthusiasm and commitment.
Similarly in Symphony 2, one ideally wants greater richness of tone. That said, Gourlay unfolds the first movement’s exposition (not repeated) with clarity and what might be heard as refreshing directness, even if the relative leanness of the OSCyL’s timbre is a little restrictive of Slavic passions, although there is plenty of attack and ardour as the music develops, yet I would have welcomed more from timpani and horns and a bit less from trumpets; to his credit, unlike some conductors, Gourlay doesn’t add anything to the cellos and basses on the final chord, itself incisive.
The Scherzo has swagger, yearning and fugal focus, as well as carnival impetuosity, whereas the clarinet-led slow movement (a fine introductory solo) is very affecting, its emotions sensitively explored to a concluding sunset, to which the Finale, at a sensible (articulate, integrated) tempo, might be heard as the exuberant start to a new day, with much romance along the way, and charted to an expansive victory and a dash to the finishing post – and, gratifyingly, the violins remain audible, if not quite as pertinent as on David Zinman’s Telarc release.
There are then numerous aspects to like in both of these renditions – on their own terms – but the bigger picture is how this release fits into the existing (and always burgeoning) Rachmaninov discography.