> RACHMANINOV Symphony 3 BISCD1299 [CF]: Classical CD Reviews- January 2006 MusicWeb-International

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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Symphony No.3 in A minor Op.44 (1936)
Symphonic Movement in D minor (‘Youth Symphony’) (1891)
Vocalise Op.34 No.14 (arrangement for orchestra, 1912)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Owain Arwel Hughes
Recorded at the Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow, Scotland on 10 and 11 September 2001
BIS-CD-1299 [68. 25]


Like bookends this disc features both Rachmaninov’s very first attempt at a symphony as well as his last, spanning the years 1891 to 1935/36. His second symphony (1906/07) is undisputedly the best of his output, although the Symphonic Dances (chronologically even later than the third symphony) are not to be lightly dismissed. Rachmaninov was eighteen when he penned the test piece set him by his teacher Anton Arensky in 1891, and this so-called Youth Symphony, despite its overtly Tchaikovskian tunes, scoring and rhythms, is clearly the work of a young man who was gifted with a melodic sense and natural feel for structure. Four years later he completed his First Symphony Op.13, and, with more than a coincidence, it shares the same D minor key as its putative prototype. In 1912 he published fourteen songs with piano accompaniment, the last of which was a wordless vocal melody presenting the voice as a pure instrument, a melisma unfettered by text (eight years earlier his one-act opera Francesca da Rimini had also featured a wordless chorus from the souls in Purgatory, while his later compatriot Reinhold Glière produced a concerto for coloratura soprano in 1943). But the most substantial work on the disc is the Third Symphony, first performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra under Stokowski on 6 November 1936. It was not well received by public or critics alike, despite the ‘exemplary’ performance heard by the composer. Somehow it did not communicate and, to the public’s ears, lacked both the extravagant Romantic melodies in the works for piano and orchestra, and the elegant balance of instrumentation which typified his music.

Owain Arwel Hughes clearly loves the music of Rachmaninov. While emphasising the rugged quality of the angular melodic material of the Youth Symphony he contrasts it with a tender performance of the Vocalise. The opening of the symphony, so reminiscent of its immediate (and better) predecessor, is hauntingly played by the clarinet, as are the solos taken by horn and leader at the start of the second movement Adagio. The finale is brisk, its thematic material not quite up to Rachmaninov’s inspired best until the second subject a couple of minutes in, where the playing is stylish if over-indulgently so. The RSNO is a fine orchestra, the acoustics of the Henry Wood Hall in Glasgow not quite doing them full justice in places, but the strings circumnavigate the tricky fugue despite this slight dryness. Three lesser known but nevertheless enjoyable works from this tunesmith.

Christopher Fifield




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