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Merlin Patterson
Fanfare, November 2014

Leonard Slatkin completes his second go-round of the Rachmaninoff symphonies with a splendid First featuring powerful playing by the revitalized Detroit Symphony. A riveting Isle of the Dead is an added bonus. © 2014 Fanfare

Merlin Patterson
Fanfare, March 2014

Leonard Slatkin and his marvelous Detroit Symphony complete their superb Rachmaninoff symphony cycle with a spectacular First Symphony. Slatkin’s interpretations of the Second and Third symphonies were straightforward, powerful, and no-nonsense, focusing on the structure of both works and downplaying their emotional excesses. Here he takes a similar approach with the First Symphony and it pays off in huge dividends.

The performance here is extremely compelling and boasts an especially powerful and ominous coda. The trombones really have a field day. All in all, this is a great performance of a work difficult to pull off…

Rachmaninoff composed his symphonic poem The Isle of the Dead after viewing Arnold Böcklin’s painting of the same title in 1907. Here Slatkin…refuses to allow the music to wallow in its own mannerisms, choosing to make the most of its rhythmic momentum. Throughout the work, Slatkin highlights the contrast between passages of ominous foreboding and those of serene tranquility perhaps more effectively than anyone before him. The climaxes are truly shattering, with snarling brass and pounding bass drum. Each successive statement of the Dies Irae becomes increasingly eerie. The cumulative effect is absolutely bone-chilling.

…the DSO has come back with a vengeance, sounding stronger than ever. Credit must be given to what is obviously a very productive partnership with its music director. I hope we can look forward to more Rachmaninoff from this team…Highly recommended, especially at Naxos’s budget-friendly price. © 2014 Fanfare Read complete review

Brian Wigman
Classical Net, December 2013

Slatkin concludes his second, superior Rachmaninov cycle…with this disc, and it confirms his mastery of the composer’s music. It also fortifies the notion that the Detroit Symphony Orchestra is both resurgent and enormously gifted.

…Naxos provides stellar sound quality, and Slatkin himself clearly is playing to the strengths of his orchestra. Strings are ravishing throughout, and there is a rhythmic alacrity and crispness that is really impressive. The winds…sound absolutely stunning.

The first symphony hardly lacks for excellent recordings, but Slatkin’s stands tall in a crowded field. The first movement…is exceptionally played…those Detroit winds are unbelievable, but the whole orchestra deserves praise. It’s all great…the sound really allows you to hear everything, and the result is a total package as satisfying as anything on the market. All in all, a terrific end to a terrific cycle, essential to anyone who loves this music. © 2013 Classical Net Read complete review

Cinemusical, November 2013

The wait is over! Leonard Slatkin’s latest Rachmaninov symphony cycle comes to a close some four years after its beginning with this final release featuring the first symphony.

The opening work on the disc is the symphonic poem, The Isle of the Dead, Op. 29…it is filled with variations on the Dies Irae and is an excellent depiction of water and the slow rowing of inevitability marked by a 5/4. Perhaps the latter is really felt superbly in this recording and the delicate solo lines that float above the waterline are equally well-captured. The forward thrust of the music is equally unrelenting in this performance never bogging down. The impassioned music and big climax is equally well handled.

With this final release, Slatkin has managed to maintain some continuity with this latest cycle. The whole set is truly fascinating with great detail in the audio presentation. The lower cost also puts another great Rachmaninov set in the hands of many. © 2013 Cinemusical Read complete review

Grego Applegate Edwards
Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review, November 2013

These are two supremely dark and dramatic works that pair especially well together and are given loving attention from Maestro Slatkin and the Detroit conflagration. I have heard nothing on disk that seriously surpasses these versions, so I of course enthusiastically recommend this recording without hesitation! © 2013 Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review Read complete review

Robert Cummings
Classical Net, November 2013

The first thing you’re likely to notice about the performances on this CD is the transparency of sound. Naxos does a fine job of providing vivid sonics with excellent balance of the various instrumental sections and solo instruments…

As most Rachmaninov mavens are aware, the First Symphony was a grand failure at its 1897 premiere. Slatkin conducts the symphony as if it still needs championing, still needs an advocate to clarify its music. He certainly succeeds in making a fine case for this still underrated work, because he also imparts a tension and spirit to the music, pointing up the plentiful dark elements and often contrasting them deftly with the work’s ecstatic angelic moments, particularly in the first and third movements. He also succeeds because he draws a first-rate performance from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

My reference to the “dark elements” in the First Symphony has to do with Rachmaninov’s use of the Dies Irae theme throughout the work…Isle of the Dead, it makes a logical pairing with the Symphony. Once again Slatkin clarifies textures nicely, but he also makes what can sound ponderous and overlong into exciting, tension-filled music that seems to harbor threats at every turn. The Detroit Symphony again plays magnificently. There is considerable competition in the Rachmaninov symphonies…but Slatkin and the Detroit Symphony can hold their own against anybody. Moreover, Naxos’ sound reproduction is state-of-the-art. © 2013 Classical Net Read complete review

Phil Muse
Audio Video Club of Atlanta, November 2013

Leonard Slatkin and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra conclude their cycle of Rachmaninoff symphonies in impressive form with their best entry yet.

The D minor Symphony is now recognized as a major achievement, and a culmination of the Russian romantic tradition. This is a completely cyclical symphony, in which themes emerge from cell groups and recur time and again in different forms in each movement and throughout the work.

There’s a lot happening in this symphony, and Slatkin is on top of it all: towering climaxes with expanded woodwind, brass and percussion, outcries and shudders against an expressive orchestral background, swelling appoggiaturas, even a few moments of relative calm such as the slow melody sung by the clarinet in the Larghetto. The finale is as grand and smashing as a train wreck, a fact which should endear this recording to audiophiles.

Slatkin and the Detroit SO make it an overwhelming experience. © 2013 Audio Video Club of Atlanta Read complete review

International Record Review, November 2013

Warm-hearted, scrupulously balanced, full of detail and rhythmic life and very well paced…Slatkin whips things up to splendid effect—the opening fanfares have an unbuttoned splendour that is just what’s needed, helped by rhythmic tension and clear textures…I urge interested collectors to give it a try. © International Record Review

David Hurwitz, October 2013

This recording of the First Symphony is arguably the finest since Ashkenazy’s…

Slatkin always has performed Rachmaninov as well as just about anyone alive today, and this cycle, quietly and with little fanfare as it has gradually appeared, sustains his reputation. © Read complete review

Geoffrey Norris
Gramophone, October 2013

Slatkin fearlessly brings into the focus the symphony’s originality…through a sure grasp of salient detail and a long-term, disciplined notion of the architecture. These are impressive, highly desirable interpretations—budget in price but invaluable for the insights they bring so animatedly and poignantly into Rachmaninov’s world. © Gramophone Read complete review on Gramophone

David Denton
David's Review Corner, September 2013

The public failure of his first symphony so depressed the young twenty-four year Rachmaninov that it took the intervention of a hypnotist to regenerate his career. The work was performed twice before it was withdrawn and ‘lost’ until orchestral parts were found and the score constructed in 1945, two years after his death. Since then it has formed part of the Russian orchestral repertoire, and reports that it was ridiculously poor performances that had caused the work’s initial failure have been borne out. Its outer movements have both the power and drama that had well served Tchaikovsky’s symphonies. The bustling scherzo comes second, and precedes a typically soulful Russian melody that opens a Larghetto characterised by melancholy woodwind solos. …Leonard Slatkin and his Detroit symphony tip the scales in their favour with a thrilling finale, the tempo having a forward thrust that never sags, while the tam-tam, as we have noted in previous releases, is something special. It was twelve years later that Rachmaninov wrote The Isle of the Dead, a work that came in response to Arnold Boecklin’s famous painting of the island in Greek mythology where the dead were taken, Slatkin ideally producing the chilling concept of the scene. It is a long tone-poem that goes through so many moods, its climatic points here carrying awesome weight. The disc concludes Slatkin’s highly regarded Rachmaninov symphony cycle, all exceptionally well played and recorded in outstandingly detailed and punchy sound. I hope Naxos will issue it as a boxed set. © 2013 David’s Review Corner

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