Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 3 in A minor; The Isle of the Dead

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COMPOSERS: Rachmaninov
LABELS: Nimbus
WORKS: Symphony No. 3 in A minor; The Isle of the Dead
PERFORMER: BBC Welsh SO/Tadaaki Otaka
CATALOGUE NO: NI 5344 DDD
Following its fine recording of the Second Symphony, the BBC Welsh SO under Tadaaki Otaka tackles Rachmaninov’s Third, written some 30 years later during one of the composer’s respites from a punishing concert schedule.

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For all its rapid mood changes, this is the tersest and most structurally cohesive of the symphonies, with a thematic unity emphasised by Otaka’s refusal to exaggerate the tempi. This works beautifully in the lush lyricism of the adagio sections of the second movement, where the subtleties of Rachmaninov’s intimate orchestration are given plenty of elbow-room, but to some extent it underplays the contrasts with the central Scherzo and the fury of the finale.

But this is a warmly felt account, with some particularly expressive string playing, and it is well coupled with the earlier symphonic poem The Isle of the Dead and its even darker mood.

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Here there is an impressive sensitivity to Rachmaninov’s undulating rhythms, granting the funereal melancholy an eerie sense of inevitability, and helped once again by Otaka’s secure command of the work’s structure. The recordings are resonant, perhaps lacking full clarity in the large climaxes. William Humphreys-Jones