Philadelphia Orchestra back on the global recording scene with a lush 'Rach 2nd' live from Kimmel

The Philadelphia Orchestra at Verizon Hall.

At last, the Philadelphia Orchestra is making a solid return to the international recording market.

Music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin announced at the Thursday Kimmel Center concert that Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 was being recorded live by the Deutsche Grammophon label — a natural segue from the orchestra’s Rachmaninoff concerto recordings with star pianist Daniil Trifonov but one that puts the famous Philadelphia sound (loved so much by the composer himself) into the foreground.

With his recordings of Mozart operas and Schumann symphonies, Nézet-Séguin is no stranger to Deutsche Grammophon, though the luxurious Rachmaninoff sonorities are not something you’d want to hear played by the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, his usual recording collaborator.

In Thursday’s concert, Nézet-Séguin revisited the Rach 2nd, as it’s nicknamed, only three years after his last performance here, but the approach was considerably more evolved. Having toured with the composer’s leaner Symphony No. 3, Nézet-Séguin approached the second symphony’s lushness with the precise ear for sonority one associates with Ravel (that also served him well recently in the Metropolitan Opera’s Parsifal).

String tone arrived in finer shades, basses were more bold, like something from a Russian church choir, and wind blends favored the darker English horn, which became a larger-than-usual presence with Elizabeth Starr Masoudnia’s incredibly poetic first-movement solo.

Didn’t Charles Dutoit also conduct Rachmaninoff with such a deeply -considered sense of sound and attention to fugal details? Yes, but with suave results. Nézet-Séguin lets the symphony off its leash when that’s what it needs. Quite thrilling.

The composer’s own Philadelphia-made recordings of his music tended to be more contained. But by this point in history, might we understand Rachmaninoff’s music better than he did? We’ve certainly heard it often enough.

The concert opened with Michel van der Aa, the major Dutch composer best known for cutting-edge multimedia operas such as Sunken Garden, now playing in Dallas. His 2014 Violin Concerto, heard here in its U.S. premiere, meets tradition more than halfway, with the composer limiting himself to acoustic instruments (no electronic track, in other words).

Unburdened by an operatic plot, the gleefully rambunctious concerto freely explores gestures with collage-like interplay and little allegiance to any one key.

The outcome in the first movement is mildly muddy — with a promising beginning that’s not quite sustained. The stronger narrative of the second movement happily recalls the color and mystery of 20th-century French composer Henri Dutilleux.

The excellent final movement shows the composer using the kind of perpetual-motion rhythms that are so effective in Sunken Garden, a suspenseful opera about demonic possession in the age of virtual reality. Movement endings are refreshingly abrupt.

With a first-movement revision, this Violin Concerto could easily enter the repertoire, especially with a champion like Janine Jansen, for whom the piece was written. She and Nézet-Séguin created an especially high-tension performance, despite rehearsals canceled by bad weather.

Jansen’s series of “Perspectives” concerts this season at Carnegie Hall has established her as a violinist whose passion, imagination, and alluring tone quality make you drop everything to hear her. The van der Aa concerto stands to be her capstone achievement when this Philadelphia Orchestra program migrates to Carnegie Hall on Tuesday.

The Philadelphia Orchestra program is repeated Friday and Saturday at the Kimmel Center. Tickets: $36-158. Information: 215-893-1999 or


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