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Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 3 - Wilson

Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 3 - Wilson

Chandos  CHSA 5297

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 3, The Isle of the Dead, Vocalise

Sinfonia of London
John Wilson (conductor)

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Review by Graham Williams - November 10, 2022

This is certainly an auspicious start start to the projected cycle of the Rachmaninoff Symphonies from John Wilson and the Sinfonia of London. Wilson and his hand-picked players have already shown their mettle in works with an opulent romantic flavour and there is little doubt that this programme fits them like a glove.

Their account of Symphony No.3 is preceded by a compelling account of the composer’s Symphonic Poem ‘The Isle of the Dead, a work inspired by the eponymous painting by Arnold Böcklin that Rachmaninoff saw in a black-and-white reproduction while in Paris in 1907.
Wilson and his players perfectly capture the mood of this sombre masterpiece from the start at a measured tempo that evokes the lapping of the waves and the pulling of oars through the water.
Wilson gradually builds the momentum with inexorable power to a thrilling climax while the poignant section that follows expands gloriously thanks not only due to the superfine orchestral playing but also the sumptuous quality of the Chandos recording.

The ever popular ‘Vocalise’ provides an attractive interlude between the two main works on this SACD. ‘Vocalise’ was originally the last of a set of fourteen songs on which Rachmaninoff began work in 1910 and which he completed in 1912. In 1915, he made the orchestral setting heard here. Though marked ‘Lentamente’ in the score the music can easily become saccharine in some hands, so Wilson’s more animated and flowing cantabile performance (5.22) is a surprising, though refreshing, change from the norm.

The composer’s final symphony is an elusive work that has received many and various interpretations since its premier given by Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1936. Rachmaninoff recorded it with the same orchestra in 1939 – a valuable document in spite of a lack of the 1st movement exposition repeat and small cut elsewhere. On CD this symphony is well represented by celebrated performances from among others, Eugene Ormandy and Vladimir Ashkanazy (who has recorded it no less than three times with three different orchestras.)

The 3rd Symphony, even more than the composer’s earlier two, is characterised by a profusion of sweeping melodies often darkened by moods of melancholy, nostalgia, brooding and impassioned defiance. Wilson’s glorious account of this score is fully attuned to the frequent changes of mood and pace – most notable in the second movement that combines a slow movement with a scherzo. His use of rubato throughout is sensitive but never excessively applied and he brings terrific rhythmic verve and joyous virtuosity to the more animated passages.
It need hardly be said that the playing of all sections of the Sinfonia of London is beyond reproach and they are meticulous in observing the many dynamic and tempo changes throughout this work.

On SACD until now there has been no version I have heard that combines both a top flight performance with the demonstration quality sound that the music deserves. I have no hesitation in stating that, at a stroke, Wilson’s masterly and sympathetic reading combined with the luxuriant Chandos 5.0 multi-channel recording makes this a clear first choice among modern recordings.

Copyright © 2022 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

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Comments (2)
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Comment by john hunter - November 9, 2022 (1 of 2)

there seems to be delays in getting this disc out.
Hopefully because of demand.

Comment by John Bacon-Shone - November 10, 2022 (2 of 2)

You can already stream it in Atmos in Apple Music