Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 3

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Rachmaninov
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Symphony No. 3; Caprice bohémien; Prince Rostislav
PERFORMER: BBC Philharmonic/Gianandrea Noseda

This final instalment of Gianandrea Noseda’s Rachmaninov Symphonies series recalls some of the qualities of his first, superlative disc of the Isle of the Dead and Symphony No. 1. His subsequent recording of Symphony No. 2 and The Rock was meticulous but uninspired, so I was pleasantly surprised by the vibrancy and eloquence of this account of No. 3, particularly after the so-so performances of the two early works that open this disc.
Compared to the plush sound of the Philadelphia Orchestra for whom the Symphony was composed in 1935-36 – and with whom Rachmaninov recorded it in 1939 – the BBC Philharmonic’s string tone is suitably lean, clarifying both texture and detail in Rachmaninov’s scoring (beautifully caught by Chandos’s engineers). Noseda’s unexpected and very welcome use of rubato reveals the drama of the opening exposition, making the music sound purposeful rather than a Hollywood-style wallow. Alas, this sense of a tense, cohesive ensemble becomes all-too-deliberate in the development section. Noseda certainly follows dynamic markings more scrupulously than does the composer, but misses the music’s driven, nervy character shown by Rachmaninov and other conductors.
So it goes in the slow movement-cum-scherzo: the lyrical sections are magnificent, the BBC Philharmonic strings playing with appropriate warmth; but where Rachmaninov reveals the precipitous quality of the scherzo section, under Noseda it sounds genial and, the odd outburst apart, mostly harmless. The finale is perhaps the most consistently successful performance, if lacking the more menacing side revealed by the composer. Daniel Jaffé