Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 3 & Symphonic Dances
CD length has allowed recent performers to present Rachmaninov’s late orchestral works together. All are challenged to match the sound of the original orchestra he had in mind – the Philadelphia, with its fabulous strings – and the suppleness of three great conductors: Leopold Stokowski, Eugene Ormandy and Rachmaninov himself. Leonard Slatkin and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra oblige up to a point. The violins manage something of the vibrato and the frequent portamentos – sliding romantically from one note to the next – though not a Philadelphia-like lushness (the dry, ungiving sound of Detroit’s Orchestra Hall as recorded here doesn’t help). Slatkin can certainly manage the freedom of Rachmaninov’s frequent marking tempo rubato. It’s done well, for instance, in the Symphony’s first movement. And the Symphonic Dances’ central Valse Triste is as good as any I’ve heard.
On the minus side, the notoriously hard-to-co-ordinate finale of the Third feels unhelpfully lumpy and there’s a decided lack of atmosphere about the nostalgic song at the heart of the first Symphonic Dance. The up-front balance for the woodwind may be part of the problem, though it always allows their contributions to be heard. They fly like swarms of little devils around some of the dance-melodies, and the Symphony’s remarkable experiments in selective orchestration certainly register.
Not a bad bargain, then; but the best guide to the Symphony remains Rachmaninov himself with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1939. If you want this coupling, Mariss Jansons takes the music back to its Russian roots with the St Petersburg Philharmonic.