Sergei RACHMANINOV(1873-1943) Caprice bohémien, Op. 12 (1892-4) [16:05] Vocalise, Op. 34, No. 14 [5:44]
Symphony No 3 in A minor, Op. 44 (1935-6) [40:40]
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Vasily Petrenko
rec. 23 September 2009, 7-8 July 2010, Liverpool Philharmonic Hall,
EMI CLASSICS 6790192 [62:51]
Vasily Petrenko and the RLPO have already made several excellent
Rachmaninov recordings. These include the works for piano and
orchestra with Simon Trpc(eski (review,
and an outstanding collection of orchestral pieces with the
Symphonic Dances (review).
Those discs were all released by Avie but now for what, perhaps,
may be the first in a cycle of the symphonies, the issuing label
Not long ago I reviewed
another recording of the Rachmaninov Third Symphony and, coincidentally,
that also featured an ensemble from the North West of England.
In that case the recording venue was Manchester, home of the
BBC Philharmonic. That BBC Philharmonic reading, led by Gianandrea
Noseda, was very impressive; would the Liverpool version make
an equally favourable impression?
As I wrote in my review of the Noseda performance, I’ve found
the Third Symphony less easy to assimilate than its two predecessors
because I find its structure more difficult to follow. By this
stage in his composing career Rachmaninov’s style had become
more concise and there’s rather less of the overt, expansive
lyricism that pervaded his earlier masterpieces. Though there’s
still a strong lyric vein in the Third its themes tend to be
shorter in span and the inter-relationship between episodes
is perhaps less clearly signposted than was the case in the
past. I don’t say this critically but merely to point out a
different stylistic approach. However, the music can seem episodic.
I found that Noseda was successful in leading the listener –
or at least this listener - convincingly through Rachmaninov’s
argument. The same is pretty much true of Petrenko.
I believe it helps that by the time they made these respective
recordings both Noseda and Petrenko had established very settled
relationships with their orchestras. Each had made a number
of previous Rachmaninov recordings with them. On the evidence
of the recordings I’ve heard to date Petrenko has made the RLPO
into a very good Rachmaninov orchestra. The sound and style
is leaner than the classic Philadelphia sound which Rachmaninov
surely had in his mind when he wrote this work – he made a celebrated
recording of it with that orchestra in 1939 (review).
However, the Liverpool orchestra is more disciplined that some
authentically Russian orchestras that one has heard in the past,
the magnificent Leningrad Philharmonic an obvious exception.
The Liverpool approach to Rachmaninov – and, indeed, to other
music – is characterised by agile and intelligent woodwind playing,
a brass section that plays with bite and presence, strings that
have polish and satisfying weight. and a crisp percussion section.
All that’s in evidence here.
Rachmaninov’s orchestration is particularly imaginative in this
score and Petrenko is alive to this. Note, for example, the
very short, eerie passage in the first movement (11:01–11:18)
involving muted horns and soft woodwind chords. Though this
symphony is not as expansive as his previous two symphonies
the essential Rachmaninov is still very much there. Petrenko’s
reading of the opening movement conveys well the lyricism and
the vein of Russian melancholy that permeates the writing.
At the start of the second movement there’s a violin solo that
on this occasion is most delicately delivered by the RLPO’s
leader. This sets the tone for some fine solo work by other
principals, notably the flute and clarinet, as the movement
progresses. The scherzo episode is played with panache and precision.
The orchestra has the requisite rhythmic vitality to put this
section over convincingly. There’s good drive in the finale
but the rich lyrical sections (for example 1:35-3:02 and again
8:27-10:31) are given full value; remember, this music was written
for Stokowski and his Philadelphians. It seems to me that Petrenko
holds the somewhat disparate structure of this movement together
well and, appropriately, he brings the symphony home in dashing
The early Caprice bohémien is also common to both the
Petrenko and Noseda discs. It’s a somewhat gawky piece and Petrenko’s
overall approach is ardent, which is surely the right course
to adopt, given the music’s elements of weakness. His performance
is tauter than Noseda’s, taking 16:05 compared with 17:55. I
prefer the Petrenko approach overall. However, heard consecutively
the Chandos sound is fuller and more exciting than the EMI sonics
for Petrenko. This new disc is completed by a performance of
Vocalise. It’s nicely played but I wonder if Petrenko
perhaps underplays the poignancy.
The engineering team of David Pigott (balance engineer) and
producers John Fraser and, in Vocalise, Andrew Cornall,
is the same that was responsible for Petrenko’s superb Avie
recording of the Symphonic Dances. The sound on this
new EMI disc is good and I don’t think purchasers will be disappointed
though I don’t think it matches the impact and panache of the
results that were achieved in the same venue on that Avie release.
If Petrenko is making a Rachmaninov symphony cycle for EMI then
it’s got off to a good start. I hope that any such cycle will
not overlook The Bells.
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