Chandos has developed an extremely fruitful relationship with the BBC Philharmonic over a good many years. That partnership has continued very successfully during the time that Gianandrea Noseda has been the orchestra’s Chief Conductor. He stepped down from that role in summer 2011 but some recordings were still ‘in the can’ at that time and this Rachmaninoff disc contains some of them – in addition I believe that some of the music by that composer in which Noseda led the orchestra at this year’s Promenade Concerts was subsequently recorded.
So there are more Rachmaninoff recordings to come from this team but this release completes their survey of the symphonies. They’ve already given us versions of the First Symphony (CHAN 10475) and of the magnificent Second (review
). I’ve not heard those recordings but if they’re of comparable quality to this latest release then that’s an omission that I must hasten to put right – and I hope Noseda and the BBC Phil may yet give us of a recording of the Symphonic Dances
The Third Symphony is the main offering here. It’s a work that is somewhat perplexing to me because I find its structure rather difficult to follow. By the time he wrote it Rachmaninoff’s style had become, by comparison with his earlier works, if not terse then certainly more concise. You won’t find here the expansive writing that is such a feature of the Second and Third Piano Concertos or the Second Symphony, though lyricism is far from banished. In the Third Symphony the themes tend to be shorter in span and I don’t always follow the inter-relation between episodes – I hasten to say that I’m sure the fault is mine and not the composer’s. However, the music can seem episodic: in the booklet no fewer than ten separate tempo markings are listed for the first movement, while there are seven different tempi in the second movement and no less than fourteen in the finale. It’s one of the successful features of this present performance that Gianandrea Noseda leads the listener on and one never feels that one is listening to a series of episodes that have been loosely drawn together.
If Rachmaninoff’s style had become more concise by the mid-1930s when he wrote this symphony, his style had also matured in another way: his orchestration had become much more sophisticated and resourceful. The scoring of this symphony is vivid and imaginative. This is apparent from the very start when the opening quiet, chant-like theme is scored for the unusual combination of clarinets, two muted horns and a single cello, also muted. What an original sonority! Thereafter the orchestration is often more vibrant and colourful but these first few bars alone tell us that an expert and imaginative orchestrator is at work.
In this performance the scoring is rendered all the more effective thanks to the skill of Noseda and his players and that of the Chandos engineers. The recording is typical of Chandos in its immediacy, clarity and full richness. And what playing the engineers report! The BBC Philharmonic, always a vital and responsive body of musicians, is on top of its collective game here. Skilfully guided by their conductor, they respond to all the subtleties and passion of Rachmaninoff’s writing.
Noseda is an ardent advocate for the symphony. He knits the first movement together most convincingly. Then he brings out all the wistful melancholy in the slow movement – aided by some tremendously sensitive playing by the orchestra. The scherzo episode within this movement is animated and one can only admire the vitality with which the rhythms are invested in this section. David Nice points out in his very good note that the composition of the finale was undertaken nine months after Rachmaninoff had completed the first two movements. In this finale there appears to be, on the surface, a mood change, enhanced by the use of a major key. But is everything as it seems? There is a good deal of surface brilliance – and Noseda dispatches these passages with great panache – but there’s also a good deal of the wistful lyricism that’s so typical of this composer; it’s as if he can’t bring himself to be cheerful for long – sooner or later the mask slips. Noseda is equally convincing in such stretches of music So while there’s abundant drive and energy, not least in the fugato episode, passages such as the sweeping lyrical section that begins at 8:06 are given their full due.
I’m still not sure I understand this symphony as completely as I grasp its predecessor but I found myself swept along by this splendid reading, which is one of the best accounts of the Third that I can recall hearing.
Noseda completes his programme with two much earlier works. Prince Rostislav
is a tone poem inspired by the tale of a young Prince of Kiev who drowns in the River Dniepr. Rachmaninoff seems to have regarded the piece as a ‘prentice work and it was never performed in his lifetime – the première took place in 1945. To be sure it betrays the influence of others. The colourful instrumentation is reminiscent of Rimsky-Korsakov and the music itself shows quite a debt to Tchaikovsky. However, anyone hearing this passionate and atmospheric reading by Gianandrea Noseda may feel, as I do, that the composer was too self-critical in withholding the piece from the public. An opus number was assigned to Caprice bohémien
, however. This is another piece that has its weaknesses, perhaps, but which comes across very well when it receives a committed and skilful performance, which is what happens here. The title is, arguably, a bit misleading in suggesting, as it does, a composition that is essentially light hearted for there are parts of this work that have a darker hue than one might expect.. Noseda is a fine advocate for the piece and the performance is full of intensity and vitality.
This is a splendid disc, which I’ve enjoyed very much. The official partnership between the BBC Philharmonic and Gianandrea Noseda may have ended but I hope we haven’t seen and heard the last of them in the recording studio.