Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Music Webmaster
Len Mullenger:



Symphony No. 3
The Isle of the Dead

Philadelphia Orchestra/Rachmaninov
PEARL GEMM CD 9414 [58.58]

These recordings represent the complete treasury of recordings made by Rachmaninov as conductor. As Alan Sanders' lucid notes point out there might easily have been a composer-conducted recording of the Symphonic Dances but the Victor company chose otherwise. One of the great might-have-beens

The disc is transcribed from Mr Sanders' own 78s with the symphony set down in 1939 and the other works in April 1929. The sound suggests minimal intervention which is fine as it leaves, richly unadorned, the original sound. This brings with it the constant low level spit and burble of the 78 surfaces. Still, to have these composer-directed interpretations is pretty miraculous as also is the rather etiolated colour photo of the composer on the cover.

The Symphony is overshadowed by the more sprawlingly epic Second. The Third is extremely appealing: being concise, not short of fine expansive themes and seething with rewarding orchestration. I still lean heavilytowards Kondrashin's Melodiya disc but there is no doubting the historic significance of the Pearl. Lest anyone think that Rach 3 is to Rach 2 as Walton 2 is to Walton 1, be at ease: The symphony is dramatic, emotional and silkily melodic.

The other two pieces were in the studio in 1929 70 years ago and are affectingly done with Isle of the Dead cutting an oily sea-swathe - lapping ruminatively at some gloomy shore.

A special for the historian and Rachmaninov completist but with more than enough for the more general but mono-tolerant listener

Rob Barnett

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