Sergei Rachmaninov’s august reputation as a composer now appears a foregone conclusion, but it did not always seem so assured to the young Russian. The 1897 premiere of his first symphony, written when he was just 22 years old, notoriously received such a chilly reception that Rachmaninov fell into a deep depression from which he would not fully recover for several years. The perennially beloved Second Piano Concerto (1901) restored much of his confidence, but it was not until 1906, while living in Dresden, that he began work in earnest on another symphony. The Second Symphony in E Minor, first performed in 1908 and conducted by Rachmaninov himself, was received with great enthusiasm, bolstering his stature as both composer and conductor.
The symphony’s sumptuous harmonies and stirring melodies make full use of the orchestra’s sonorous capacities, showing how impressively and undeniably Rachmaninov had matured since his first attempt at the form. In the city that saw the work’s genesis, the Staatskapelle Dresden brings fire to the two Allegros and lush pathos to the Adagio, all under the ever capable baton of Sir Antonio Pappano. Fortunately for contemporary listeners, the once-popular abridged arrangements of this work have largely fallen out of fashion, and it is presented here in all the glory of its full, original version.
London Symphony Orchestra