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Sergey RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Symphony No. 3 in A minor
Three Unaccompanied Choruses

Tigram Martyrosyan (bass) Russian State Symphonic Cappella Russian State Symphony Orchestra under Valeri Polyansky
CHANDOS CHAN 9802 [73:33]
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I have been very impressed with Polyanski's interpretations of Glavunov's symphonies, in the series now unfolding on Chandos, and so I was eagerly looking forward to reviewing this disc. I have to say, though, that I was disappointed, on first hearing this reading of Rachmaninov's Symphony No. 3, but on subsequent listening, I have grown to like it more. The difficulty I found was in the languid, lingering treatment of those melancholy Slavic episodes especially in the first movement and to a lesser extent in the middle of the final Allegro. The extremities of that movement have plenty of drive as have the climatic moments of the first movement where the music excites and has enough emotional charge to meet any criticism. The middle movement is more successful overall with lots of energy especially in those quirky martial episodes. Having said all that, I hasten to add that Polanski's reading is very polished and smooth and he reveals many little nuances and felicities that are normally lost in the texture of more hurried readings.

Personally I would regard this recording as an interesting alternative. I much prefer a more vibrant, more overall thrilling and vividly coloured reading of Rachmaninov's Symphony No.3 like that of Mariss Jansons with the St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra on EMI CDC 7 54877 2, coupled with Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances.

Rachmaninov composed Spring in 1902, the year he married his beloved cousin, Natalia Satina, although its subject, a cuckolded husband brooding on murdering his wife, would seem an odd choice for such a happy time? It is a work for baritone, chorus and orchestra (although Tigram Martyrosyan is billed as a bass). Beginning in the depths of the orchestra the texture lightens a little when the chorus enters to proclaim the arrival of Spring. The disillusioned soloist mournfully recalls how he had learnt of his wife's betrayal and how the thought of vengeance had been gnawing at him all through the winter. Martyrosyan is expressively devastated and reproachful. The choir then sing of the burgeoning of Spring, the birdsong, the blossoms etc as the music becomes warmer and more colourful. The soloist at last becomes conscious of the season and "The savage idea fades away, the knife falls from my hand…", and the work ends in a jubilant celebration of love, and Spring and new beginnings.

The Three Unaccompanied Choruses, although on secular as well as liturgical subjects, are closely related in style to Rachmaninov's Vespers. The first two choruses are to texts by A.K. Tolstoy. The first, Panteley the Healer is a rather free composition, intense and dramatic about Lord Panteley gathering beneficial herbs to make potions, and wagging his stick at the poisonous plants in his path. Chorus of Spirits for Don Juan, is a very brief but lovely, gentle piece in a rocking rhythm. Equally sublime, is the more substantial nine-minute O Mother of God, vigilantly praying which has a more complex structure and really constitutes a concerto for choir.

In conclusion: there are better versions of the Symphony but this album is worth considering for the luminous beauty of the Three Unaccompanied Choruses and to a lesser extent Spring.


Ian Lace


Ian Lace

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