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Zinman's sunny, Comissiona's seductive


Sergei Rachmaninoff, "Caprice Bohemien," "Symphonic Dances," Preludes in C sharp minor and G minor (orchestrated by Lucien Caillet), performed by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Sergiu Comissiona conducting (CBC Records SMCD5143)

Because Sergiu Comissiona conducted Rachmaninoff's "Symphonic Dances" so frequently during his years as music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, it's fascinating to compare this Vancouver-Comissiona account with last year's Baltimore-Zinman version. The BSO version is slightly more brilliant because Baltimore's orchestra is slightly more virtuosic than the excellent Vancouver ensemble. But the chief difference is the approach of the conductors. Zinman's orchestral palette consists of bright, brilliant colors, and his interpretation is more straightforward than Comissiona's. There are portions of the composer's score that ask for decelerations of the tempo here and there. Compared to Comissiona, Zinman tends to slight such markings as he blazes forward toward the work's brilliant peroration. The Roumanian-American conductor's version is more seductive in its rhythms, and its colors are cast in gauzy moonlit hues rather than in sharply defined sunlight. Comissiona's reading of the rarely heard "Caprice Bohemien" is almost identical to the superb performance he led here last season with the BSO. This excellent disc is rounded out by the still more rarely heard Caillet orchestrations of the composer's two most famous pieces for solo piano.

Gustav Mahler, Symphony No. 7, Alphons Diepenbrock, "Im grossen Schweigen" ("In the great silence"), performed by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and baritone Hakan Hagegard (in the Diepenbrock), Riccardo Chailly conducting (London 444 446-2)

Chailly and the Concertgebouw are slowly putting together a Mahler cycle, and this Symphony No. 7 is the best so far. In fact, it's one of the best recordings available of this problematic work, ranking with the versions of Claudio Abbado (with the Chicago Symphony) and of Leonard Bernstein (with the New York Philharmonic) on the DG label. Chailly paces this work beautifully, making the most of its surreal contrasts of the campy with the sublime, and capturing the eeriness of its second movement as well as the tenderness of its third. Chailly's most remarkable achievement, however, comes in the crazy finale -- one of the hardest movements to hold together in Mahler's oeuvre. The Italian conductor takes a measured tempo that gives the music a sense of lyric majesty as well as that of "mishegoss."

And he and the Concertgebouw make the most of the symphony's final measures. After the music builds to a tremendous climax, Chailly and his players accomplish a superb diminuendo that is followed -- after a fraction of a second's hesitation -- by a stupendously loud exclamation point. A performance of Diepenbrock's Mahler-influenced work completes this remarkable disc. The Dutch composer, a friend and contemporary of Mahler, uses a text by Nietzsche (affectingly sung by Hagegard) to explore that favorite subject of post-Romantic composers, the silence that follow man's passionate questioning of God.


To hear an excerpt of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra playing Rachmaninoff, call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County, call (410) 268-7736; in Harford County, (410) 836-5028; in Carroll County, (410) 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the code 6190 after you hear the greeting.

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