After listening to Gergiev's performance of the Rachmaninov Symphony No. 3
on this disc several times and on different systems, I would have to agree
with Dan Morgan in his review of this recording. Actually, I found even less
to like about it than he did. I was really disappointed, because I know that
Gergiev can turn out stunning versions of the Russian standards. Although I
also know from my listening experience that he can be terribly inconsistent.
Here he seems like he is either sleepwalking through the music or simply on
I compared his account with a few others that I hold in high regard. There
are also such classics as those by Previn (EMI), Ashkenazy (Decca) and
). For my comparison, though, I chose two more recent
versions I really admire: Leonard Slatkin/Detroit Symphony (Naxos
) and Vasily Petrenko/Royal Liverpool Philharmonic
) along with Lan Shui's with the Singapore Symphony
), which Dan Morgan praises. The differences in
these recordings are not just a matter of tempo, but the timings tell at
least part of the story.
For the first movement Slatkin takes 15:33 and Petrenko 15:07, while
Gergiev slogs through at 17:45, more than two minutes longer. While Gergiev
sounds really uninvolved, Lan Shui takes even longer at 18:11 and yet he is
definitely engaged. I admire his tenacity, even if I find him too drawn out.
Still his is a real performance in superb sound. For me, Slatkin and
Petrenko are just right and bring a great deal of character and spirit to
the music. Both of these could be a first choice, but I give the palm to
Petrenko for a very fine performance in superior sound.
For the second movement there is not any significant differences in
timing: Gergiev, 11:53; Petrenko, 11:56; Slatkin, 12:31; Shui, 12:26. Here
what is most apparent is the lack of projection of Gergiev's soloists. From
the horn solo to the later ones for flute and clarinet, Gergiev's just don't
tell the way those do in the other recordings. This may be the fault of the
recording, itself, though by no means the whole reason. Unlike some of the
past LSO Live recordings in the Barbican, this one does not seem as dry or
harsh. Unfortunately, it also is not as clear and sounds like a scrim was
placed in front of the orchestra.
As with the second movement, tempo is not really at issue in the third
either: Slatkin, 12:31; Petrenko, 13:37; Gergiev, 13:48; Shui, 14:32. It's
true that Shui adds almost two minutes to Slatkin's timing and one could
argue that he is either too deliberate or that Slatkin sounds rushed.
Petrenko is exciting without undue haste and brings a welcome lightness to
the music, while Gergiev is tepid and "prissy" and lacking the energy of the
others. Gergiev finally comes to life late in the movement, but then spoils
the movement by slamming on the brakes at the end. His ending just sounds
vulgar to me.
The disc has the added attraction of the rarely heard symphonic poem
of Mily Balakirev. Programme annotator Andrew Huth describes
the work well in its use of folk songs, with Balakirev taking "his themes
through a spectrum of variations based on rhythm, harmony and colour". If
only Gergiev could have better projected this spectrum. As recorded here the
work is at best mildly interesting, though I suspect at least some of the
fault lies with the composer.
For the reasons cited above, I would skip this disc and hope that Gergiev
will record the Rachmaninov again perhaps with the Mariinsky Orchestra next