Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 3.
Caprice bohémien. Prince Rostislav
Gianandrea Noseda, cond; BBC PO
CHANDOS 10677 (73:50)
Rachmaninoff’s Third Symphony, composed in 1935–36, has never gained the same traction as the Second or
The Isle of the Dead
, both composed some years before his departure from Russia in 1917; it is neither as lush as the Second—how could it be?—nor as muscular as the
, his next, and last, composition. Aside from the difficulty Rachmaninoff had composing in exile, which has been well documented, I believe the Third Symphony and the Fourth Piano Concerto, both “problem” pieces, stand in similar relation to the
, respectively: Just as the Fourth Concerto shows Rachmaninoff working out the difficulties of adapting to a familiar genre the leaner-textured and more harmonically bold style of his later solo piano works, so does the Third Symphony; and, in each case, the work that follows demonstrates his masterly solution to the problem. In other words, while the Third Symphony is a not-quite-comfortable juxtaposition of past and present in Rachmaninoff’s musical language, the
expresses the complete assurance of his new style or manner, much in the same way an émigré writer’s second novel in his new country would exhibit greater security in its use of the new language.
Over the years I’ve found the recordings of the Third by the Philadelphia Orchestra, for which the symphony was written, generally satisfying: the composer’s own, supple 1939 version, and those by Eugene Ormandy, first a taut version on a mono LP and then a somewhat more luxuriant one in stereo. (The Dutoit recording for Decca is more problematic; see my review in
35:1.) This new version by Gianandrea Noseda, however, demands consideration. For starters, the BBC Philharmonic sounds terrific; the strings are rich and full, as they must be in this work, and the many wind solos are superb. The statement of the first movement’s second theme near the end, by flute and clarinet two octaves apart, is meltingly beautiful. The ensemble in the tricky scherzo section of the second movement is dead-on. This may well be Britain’s finest orchestra these days.
Then there’s the contribution of Noseda himself. He’s a veteran Rachmaninoff conductor by now, having recorded all three symphonies and all three operas for Chandos; of the major works, only the
and the choral-orchestral music remain.
critics have had mixed reactions to his previous Rachmaninoff recordings, but I find this one a real winner: Like the composer’s own version, tempos are flexible but never arbitrary, instead seeming to react to the music’s ebb and flow; climaxes are dynamic (and with Chandos’s sound, they can pack a wallop) but never exaggerated. Noseda takes the first-movement exposition repeat, now standard practice, but something neither Rachmaninoff (on 78s) nor Ormandy did.
The symphony, sensibly placed last on the disc, is complemented by two early works. The
is a sonic showpiece, again with particularly beautiful wind solos. Noseda handles the gradual but relentless increase in speed in the latter portion nicely, making for a big finish.
, from Rachmaninoff’s incredibly fruitful year of 1891—he was 18 years old!—is long on atmosphere if short on memorable thematic material; it owes a debt to Rimsky-Korsakov’s
This is a first-rate recording. If, like me, you could use a well-wrought Rachmaninoff Third with the exposition repeat and in excellent modern sound, you need look no further.
FANFARE: Richard A. Kaplan
There was once a trend among critics to downplay Rachmaninov's Symphony No. 3 likely stemming from mixed reviews at the work's premiere but beginning in the late 1970s the symphony has been re-evaluated several times and is today often recognized as an assured and thoroughly exciting Russian orchestral work, with appealing themes and a structure every bit as strong as the popular Symphonic Dances. In fact the dance rhythms of the Symphony's energetic finale are much akin to those in the Symphonic Dances as is the colorful orchestration. The work was written for Rachmaninov's favorite orchestra, the Philadelphia under Leopold Stokowski.
The album contains two other rarely heard works. The symphonic poem Prince Rostislav wherein the youthful composer shows the influence of his composition teacher Rimsky-Korsakov and, as with Rimsky-Korsakov's most popular works, is graced with eloquent, folk-like melody. Despite these appealing elements, the piece is overshadowed by Rachmaninov's later masterpieces. An even more rarely heard work is the Capriccio bohémien, which is luminously orchestrated and inspired by similar musical moments within the composer's opera Aleko.
Gianandrea Noseda continues this Chandos Rachmaninov series with excellent, well-recorded performances by the BBC Philharmonic who seem to be enjoying themselves within this passionate, fiery, luxurious music.
- Greg La Traille,
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 3 in A minor, Op. 44 by Sergei Rachmaninov
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1936/1938; USA
Prince Rostislav by Sergei Rachmaninov
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1891; Russia
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