I'm surprised to find myself giving Pletnev a 5-star rating here. Based on my previous contact with his music-making, I was pretty sure I didn't like his style--I thought his two-disc set of Scarlatti sonatas, and his conducting of the Beethoven symphonies, were ruined by exaggerated management of tempos and phrasing. But this is different. Pletnev's straightforward and sincere approach here produces excellent results, aided by beautiful orchestral playing and some of the nicest recorded sound for an orchestra I've heard in a long while.
Straightforward doesn't mean lacking in nuance, and these readings are informed with a natural grace and a romantic moodiness that ebbs and flows as it should. Pletnev's 1st isn't always played with the same abandon as, say, Ashkenazy's, but its climaxes are just as powerful, and its lines emerge more clearly--and melodies and orchestration don't have much effect (on me, anyway) if they can't be heard clearly. I think Pletnev's 1st is one of several recordings at the top of the heap. It also seems better to me than Jansons', but that is probably only due to the poor quality of recording given Jansons, since otherwise he seems to capture the sense and atmosphere of the work quite well. Rachmaninov's 2nd was slow going for me for a long time, but it was Pletnev's beautiful reading that finally opened my eyes (ears) to it. The 3rd is often said to be a weaker piece than the preceding symphony, and yes, with Pletnev conducting it sounds like a slightly lesser work than the 2nd, but only slightly, and I like the fact that I don't hear Pletnev trying to beautify or to inflate the material beyond what will naturally succeed. My only disappointment with this set really is the Symphonic Dances, often referred to as Rachmaninov's 4th symphony, which seem more earthbound under Pletnev's baton. I found his Isle of the Dead effective, but less so than Previn's, for example, although it's better than the early Fritz Reiner recording. At any rate, if Pletnev could make a believer out of someone who previously felt pretty lukewarm to Rachmaninov, it's entirely possible he could do the same for others as well. Here's hoping you have a chance to enjoy this set.