Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 3 in A minor; Symphonic Dances

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COMPOSERS: Rachmaninov
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Symphony No. 3 in A minor; Symphonic Dances
PERFORMER: St Petersburg PO/Mariss Jansons
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 7 54877 2 DDD
Made in America, but building powerfully on the Russian symphonic tradition, Rachmaninov’s fantastical late masterpieces here return to their roots. Mariss Jansons makes amends for the St Petersburg Philharmonic’s neglect of Rachmaninov during its (Leningrad) days under Mravinsky, drawing dark, well-blended colours in the truthful acoustics of the city’s white-marble Philharmonic Hall.

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It’s a far cry from the hyper-sensuous Philadelphia sound the composer sanctioned in the late 1930s but, as Dutoit’s recent Philadelphia recording of these works on Decca unhappily proved, surface glamour counts for nothing if Rachmaninov’s frequent demands for a flexible tempo rubato meet only with stiff metronomic precision. Jansons is carefully free with the serpentine lyrical themes of the symphony – no need, though, for (unmarked) timpani to bolster swooning strings in the finale – and he digs surprisingly deep for the ache at the heart of the Symphonic Dances. Extrovert moments are keenly accented, rather light of tread for the third-movement battle of Alleluias and Dies iraes. There I prefer the weightier excitement of Andrew Litton and the Royal Philharmonic on Virgin (Litton also offers the exposition repeat of the Third Symphony’s first movement, necessary for an epic scale). But the human, even-handed voice of the St Petersburg orchestra certainly offers a new perspective on Rachmaninov’s symphonic genius. David Nice