Sergey RACHMANINOFF (1873-1943)
Rachmaninoff conducts Rachmaninoff
Symphony No. 3 in A minor (1935-36) [37:10]
Isle of the Dead (1909) [18:09]
Vocalise (1912) [3:58]
The Philadelphia Orchestra/Sergey Rachmaninov
rec. Academy of Music, Philadelphia: 11 December 1939 (Sym); 20 April 1929 (Isle of the Dead, Vocalise). ADD. RCA originals.
NAXOS 8.111357 [59:17]

Rachmaninoff was one of several composers including Elgar, Walton and Stravinsky who recorded their own works mainly in the first half of the last century. These are invaluable interpretations allowance being made for the exigencies of the old pre-LP days when these composer-conductors had to squeeze their music onto the severely time-restricted sides of old shellac discs.

Rachmaninoff’s Third Symphony is a late work, completed in 1936 for the Philadelphia Orchestra. Leopold Stokowski conducted the premiere in the November of that year. The opening chords of Rachmaninoff’s interpretation seem to suggest an acute nostalgia and longing for his homeland, brushed aside only very briefly by the composer’s typical brio. This reading of Rachmaninov’s glorious final symphony is emotionally heartfelt, its radiant lyricism poignantly drawn and with the more violent and dramatic passages rendered in fiery colours. The Philadelphia’s gorgeous string tone with unrestrained portamenti underlines the passionate nature of the music especially in the lovely Adagio. Rachmaninoff’s harmonies and orchestrations - with scintillating percussive colour - are remarkable and mark seemingly newly explored territory and do not fail to arrest the ear. This is all vividly caught in this fine restoration by Mark Obert-Thorn.

Several months ago several MusicWeb reviewers (myself included) were asked to blind-review ten competitive recordings of Rachmaninoff’s Isle of the Dead. I said in my contribution: “Interestingly, Rachmaninoff delivers this reading in 18:09, appreciably faster than some of the modern recordings ... yet the composer’s viewpoint is atmospheric enough and there is a blazing dramatic and emotional intensity here.” I would go further and add that Rachmaninoff’s reading is not only exciting and atmospheric but entirely sympathetic to the plight of the departing soul. The sound restoration is very satisfactory.

The composer’s 1929 recording of his Vocalise is captured in its orchestral dress only - not in his arrangement for soprano and orchestra. Nevertheless the Philadelphia respond to his direction in a heart-rending reading.

Ian Lace

Previously issued on the Pearl label, reviewed by Rob Barnett

Gorgeous string tone, scintillating percussive colour, all vividly caught.