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Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 3; Symphonic Dances / Leonard Slatkin, Detroit SO

Album Summary

>Rachmaninov, Sergey : Symphony no 3 in A minor, Op. 44
>Rachmaninov, Sergey : Symphonic Dances, for orchestra (or 2 pianos), Op. 45
Conductor Ensembles Composer

Notes & Reviews:

Completed in 1936, two years after the hugely popular Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Rachmaninov's Third Symphony was considered by the composer to be one of his finest works. Both this and the Symphonic Dances, his last work, offer a summation of his late style in blending intense rhythmic energy with rich romanticism. Leonard Slatkin and the DSO's recording of the Second Symphony (8.572458) was hailed by BBC Music Magazine as "a performance warmed by musicians who clearly love this symphony".

BBC Music Magazine, May 2013
Slatkin can certainly manage the freedom of Rachmaninov's frequent marking tempo rubato...On the minus side, the notoriously hard-to-co-ordinate finale of the Third feels unhelpfully lumpy...Not a bad bargain.

Gramophone Magazine, July 2013
Structurally and from the point of view of identifying shifting moods, Slatkin has a secure grasp in both pieces, finding sublime, yearning wistfulness at the centre of the finale of the Symphonic Dances but harnessing vigour and bite for a thrilling conclusion.

American Record Guide, September/October 2013
Slatkin recorded both works as part of his all-encompassing traversal of Rachmaninoff's music for orchestra with the St Louis Symphony. They were very good in the late 1970s, and they're very good now. This is a very fine introduction to Slatkin's lyrical, Apollonian Rachmaninoff.

Notes & Reviews:

Recording information: Orchestra Hall, Detroit, USA.


Slatkin & Detroit Triumph in Rachmaninov
A few years ago, when I wrote for the American Record Guide, my fellow critics and I regularly lamented that new releases came and went, but our recommendations of the best recordings remained essentially unaltered. In other words, it seemed as if all the great classical recordings had already been made. On rare occasions, though, a new disc comes along that changes everything and makes previous releases seem superfluous. This glorious Naxos CD is one of those exceptional recordings.

While he may be American to the core, Leonard Slatkin’s family came to the US from the Russian Empire shortly after the turn of the previous century. Whatever his ethnic heritage, Slatkin has an innate sense of how this music ought to go. Moreover he is an orchestra builder of the highest rank, and he has transformed the Detroit Symphony into one of the finest orchestras in the country, if not the world. Under his leadership they bring more passion and Russian soul to this repertory than even the best Russian ensembles.

Rachmaninov may have immigrated to New York in 1918 in the wake of the Russian revolution, but as a composer he never left his homeland, even for a moment. If anything his music became even more thoroughly Russian, and the Third Symphony is a splendid example. It is a brooding, nostalgic lament for a world turned upside down by war and revolution. Given the time of its composition (1935-36), it is no surprise that forebodings of another war on the horizon are easily discerned. Just listen to the glittering, ominous martial music embedded in the heart of the otherwise slow and contemplative second movement.

During his long and fruitful tenure in St. Louis Slatkin’s recordings—unlike his concert performances—too often seemed reticent and cautious. Not so in Detroit. After a very brief pianissimo introduction, the symphony explodes from the speakers, grabs you by the collar, and never lets go. Tempos are unhurried but, as in Bernstein’s greatest recordings, Slatkin never allows the tension to dissipate. Yet Rachmaninov’s glorious themes unfold gently and blossom naturally here. Slatkin also demonstrates that he is a supreme colorist, on par with the legendary Leopold Stokowski who, as it happens, also made a remarkable recording of this work. The orchestra is at the top of their game in this music. Indeed, this is some of the most thrilling, virtuosic orchestral playing you are likely to hear on or off disc. Although it is difficult to single out any section for special praise, I really treasure the rich, buttery sound of the Detroit cellos. The vivid, transparent Naxos recording further enhances the experience.

If you expect something titled “Symphonic Dances” to be more lighthearted in character then you don’t know Rachmaninov. This is a symphony in all but name and, as one might expect from a melancholy composer near the end of his life, the music is haunted by ghosts, goblins, and the specter of death. But don’t let that deter you. It’s a thrilling ride, from the bracing opening bars to the devastating conclusion.

Slatkin took his time with the Symphony, but here for the most part he favors brisk tempos. His interpretation is fiery and driven with blazing colors and crisp, infectious rhythms. Again the lyrical moments (especially the haunting saxophone melody in the first dance) shine. Indeed my only quibble with this performance is that Slatkin plows through the grim death march toward the end of the finale a bit too hastily. It’s considerably more chilling at Yevgeny Svetlanov’s more measured pace. No matter. The closing pages here have an intensity and tension that not even Andre Previn’s splendid EMI recording can match. By the end I was in tears and couldn’t listen to anything else for a considerable time. Slatkin is a sublime interpreter of the symphonies of Gustav Mahler—I heard him lead a stunning 10th in St. Louis—and he plumbs the same depths here.

This amazing orchestra triumphs in everything they do these days. Their webcasts of Ives and Copland last season were spectacular, but this disc is even finer still. I have many older recordings of both scores, but I’d gladly trade them all for this one peerless disc.
Submitted on 10/20/13 by Tom Godell 
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Works Details

>Rachmaninov, Sergey : Symphony no 3 in A minor, Op. 44
  • Conductor: Leonard Slatkin
  • Ensemble: Detroit Symphony Orchestra
  • Notes: Orchestra Hall, Detroit, USA (11/25/2011-11/27/2011)
  • Running Time: 39 min. 23 sec.
  • Period Time: Romantic
  • Form: Orchestral
  • Written: 1935-1936

>Rachmaninov, Sergey : Symphonic Dances, for orchestra (or 2 pianos), Op. 45
  • Conductor: Leonard Slatkin
  • Notes: Orchestra Hall, Detroit, USA (02/09/2012-02/11/2012)
  • Running Time: 34 min. 10 sec.
  • Period Time: Romantic
  • Written: 1940