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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Symphony No. 3 in A minor Op. 44 (1936) [40:38]
Symphonic Dances Op. 45 (1940) [31:23]
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra/David Zinman
rec. Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, Baltimore, Maryland, 28-29 May 1994. DDD
TELARC CLASSICS CD-80331 [72.01]

Telarc re-issues are making up quite an impressive catalogue for impecunious collectors.

Using what might conventionally be considered "second league" American orchestras with their resident conductors in charge, and generally recorded in stunning sound, there is very little risk with these discs. This is because generally, the second league of American orchestras, on a good day are almost indistinguishable from their first league cousins. Telarcís choice of repertoire is usually interesting enough to make league placement irrelevant.

The current disc is a good example. Rachmaninovís two late orchestral works partner well, there already being about half a dozen couplings of these works in the catalogue, as well as many others coupled differently. Zinman comes up against competitors such as Previn (LSO), Jansons (St. Petersburg PO), Mackerras (RPO) Fedoseyev (USSRRSO), Pletnev (Russian National Orch), to say nothing of differently coupled performances. With such competition, it largely comes down to personal preference.

Where these Telarc issues are better than most of the competition is in the quality of the recorded sound. Long famous as perhaps the best transatlantic company for sound quality in general, this current disc is well up to the normal Telarc sound, i.e. very clear, with a wide dynamic range, good separation, and a highly believable acoustic.

Rachmaninovís Third Symphony is less well known than the popular Second but nevertheless is no worse as a symphonic statement than its predecessor. It is in three movement form, and like other late works has a nostalgic sadness about it, perhaps due to the poor reception his works received in the 1920s; the fourth Piano Concerto was unenthusiastically received in 1927. This was his first major work since 1910. Although in three movements the symphonyís second movement is a combination of slow movement and scherzo so the four movement structure is implied.

The work is strongly symphonic, being based upon a motto theme heard at the outset. This is woven into the structure and returns on a regular basis to give a strongly unified feeling. Rachmaninov also uses the Dies Irae, which also appeared so successfully in one of his earlier works for piano and orchestra, Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. The heavy brass of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra relish this expert writing and the recording allows us to revel in the sheer volume and quality of the orchestral playing. Zinman has been making quite a name for himself recently with the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra in Beethoven, Schumann and Strauss. We forget how good were his performances in the States before he took up his Swiss appointment.

The coupling is the three movement Symphonic Dances, which in some ways might be considered as Rachmaninovís Fourth Symphony. It was written for Eugene Ormandy and Rachmaninovís favourite orchestra, the Philadelphia. Although more dance-related than the symphonies, it is still a serious work, and like the Third is infiltrated with the Dies Irae theme throughout; a leit motif of sorts. In this Zinman is not as good as Kondrashin, but is so much better recorded; highly recommended.

John Phillips




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