RACHMANINOV Symphony No 3
These live recordings, finely played and boasting an impressive Concertgebouw-like bloom, were in fact made in Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall, as we are now expected to refer to London’s sonically parched 1950s survivor. The release is unusual in that the LPO’s own label has been here before, having captured the main work live in the same venue in 2007 with lavish added resonance.
Although Gramophone’s reviewer commended its ‘zestful swagger’, the earlier reading under Osmo Vänskä seems preoccupied with the score’s fantastical textural undergrowth, attenuating string lines so that some of the music’s emotive force is compromised. Vladimir Jurowski, who unlike Vänskä dispenses with the first-movement exposition repeat, is less interested in obtaining the nth degree of clarity. The tone is darker and richer with plentiful expressive slides, some eloquent touches from the winds and a more generous way with the movement’s Mahlerian string-led climax. That said, some of the gratuitous lingering could prove irksome on repetition. Living in the moment takes precedence over structural cohesion and even a firm basic pulse proves elusive. While the playing is certainly more assured than the LSO’s for Gergiev, I missed the irresistible drive that’s second nature to Mariss Jansons and the St Petersburg Philharmonic. At least the third movement’s pay-off is brisk and unmannered without the increasingly popular interpolated rallentando. Applause is retained after the symphony.
The coupling may also divide opinion. Rachmaninov, like Sibelius, was a first-rate composer of songs whose contributions to the genre have been held back by linguistic factors. Here the difficulty is magnified by the very Russian delivery of tenor Vsevolod Grivnov. He’s an ardent exponent, capable of singing this repertoire from memory, but over 10 songs I found the timbre beginning to grate. The arrangements are credited to the conductor’s grandfather, another Vladimir (1915-72), whose Soviet-era treatments are not always predictable: ‘Kakoye schastye’ (‘What happiness’) retains an orchestral piano. Odd though not to conclude with the longer-drawn eloquence of ‘Son’ (‘Sleep’) from the composer’s final (1916) set. With or without a little help from the mixing desk, Jurowski ensures that the vocal line is never obscured.