Serge RACHMANINOFF (1873-1943)
Symphony No. 3 in A minor (1935-36, rev. 1939) [37.52]
Ten Songs (arr. Jurowski) (1890-1916): Christ is Risen Op. 26, No. 6 [2.40]; Before My Window Op. 26, No. 10 [1.55]; All Things Pass Away Op. 26, No. 15 [1.40]; The Little Island Op. 14, No. 2 [1.40]; We Shall Rest Op. 26, No. 3 [1.53]; What Happiness Op. 34, No. 12 [2.03]; I Remember That Day Op 34, No. 10 [1.18]; It Cannot Be Op. 34 No. 7 [1.48]; Sleep Op. 38 No. 5 [3.35]; How Beautiful it is Here Op. 21 No. 7 [2.15]
Vsevolod Grivnov (tenor)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Vladimir Jurowski
rec. live, Royal Festival Hall, 29 April 2015
LPO LIVE LPO0088 [59.22]

Jurowski’s live performance of the Rachmaninoff (spelling styling as on this CD) Third Symphony is indulgent but no less appealing for that. The sense of loss and yearning in the music is very palpable in this reading; it is very emotionally involving with a use of portamenti especially in the opening pages.

It should be remembered that after the Rachmaninoffs’ escape from their beloved Russia at the time of the Revolution, the composer was forced to concentrate on his other musical talents: conducting but especially his virtuoso piano playing rather than composition. It was only very late in his life when he felt able to return to his writing notably with the Fourth Piano Concerto, this Third Symphony, the Symphonic Dances and the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. This Third Symphony was written in the tranquil surroundings of the Rachmaninoffs’ Swiss home on the shores of Lake Lucerne. It is imbued with a poignancy that speaks of the Russian homeland and life that Serge had loved and lost so many years before. Between the first performance in November 1936 and 1939 the work went through a number of revisions.

The opening movement’s bombastic elements are incisive enough and there is an impish wit too, contrasting with the yearning which, at times, hovers on the brink of becoming cloying. This too is apparent in Jurowski’s tender central Adagio which is unhurried and has some lovely little nuances and flurries. The scherzo section in the middle of this movement — the Symphony is cast in just three movements — is crisply executed and not without excitement. The violin solo is heartfelt. Jurowski’s Finale is sturdier and more thrusting with an exciting coda although the music tends to swoon rather in the more introspective passages.

The most interesting part of this album is that devoted to ten orchestral songs. These were orchestrated by the conductor’s grandfather, another Vladimir Jurowski. His choice of the ten songs – from the composer’s total output of around 80, all composed during his lifetime in Russia – was judicious and representative of Rachmaninov’s solo vocal genre. This collection was orchestrated after the Second World War for performance by the Russian tenor Ivan Kozlovsky and the conductor Kiril Kondrashin.

The opening song Kristos voskres (Christ is risen) is mordant in sentiment (‘If He came again … to see … how shameful mankind has become …’) and tenor Grivnov is suitably scathing in his delivery. Grivnov shines in all these pieces, colouring his voice most convincingly to the character and sentiment of each song. Cleverly, Jurowski includes ‘We shall rest’ which has an opposite consolatory effect: ‘… all the evil on earth … swept away, And our life will be peaceful, gentle …’ As Geoffrey Norris points out in his notes for these songs, ‘Before my window’ is one of Rachmaninoff’s ‘most beautiful songs … with its image of ‘… a blossoming, perfumed cherry tree …’ at Ivanovka, Rachmaninoff’s Russian country home. Of the other songs - all are gems - but I must mention: ‘The little island’ a wondrously tender evocation of an island paradise ‘… her maiden shores inviolate …’; ‘What happiness’ in which the singer boldly and loudly boldly proclaims his love as if to convince himself - in spite of the pain it causes him; the singer’s wonder at being told she loves him in the exquisite ‘I remember that day’ and the most substantial of the songs ‘Sleep’, a lullaby, the scintillating music floating blissfully, the orchestration and harmonies suggestive of a glittering star-lit night.

Of other versions of the Symphony there is Rachmaninov’s own 1939 recording but the Russian Svetlanov’s approach is rather gloomy. I am still impressed with Previn’s 1977 reading and moreover you can get his box set (EMI CMS 7 64530 2) of all three Rachmaninov Symphonies which includes his celebrated ground-breaking recording of the uncut version of the Second Symphony. Of recent recordings, Petrenko’s Warner/EMI Classics reading from 2010 is well worth considering.

This Third Symphony is for the sweet-toothed. There are alternative versions for the competition is quite wide now. The songs are a revelation and worth the outlay for this new CD alone.

Ian Lace

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