These are excellent and engrossing accounts of early and late Rachmaninov opuses, a cross-section including the Caprice on Gypsy Airs, here soulful and scintillating, with brilliant timpani descriptions at the opening, and full of enchanting atmosphere with richly lyrical, seductive clarinet and flute solos over shimmering strings. Also included is The Rock, inspired by Lermontov’s poem, or maybe it was Chekhov’s story, On the Road, for Rachmaninov confided to the latter writer it was indeed his tale that had motivated the composition. Whether concerning a flyaway cloud, a lonely crag or Chekhov’s disillusioned traveller, the invention itself is certainly illustrative. From the brooding depths and with much sun-hazed colouring, the music’s delicate textures, drama and final sense of tragedy are given full value.
As for the late, great masterpieces that are the Symphony No.3 and the Symphonic Dances, the latter is specified an exceptionally impassioned outing, notable for incisive detailing and vivid projection, but there is subtlety and intimacy, too. Paavo Järvi ploughs ahead in the first movement, and the bittersweet central section, introduced by a saxophone, is deeply affecting, as is the broad expanse of the coda. Written for Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra (they made a never-bettered recording of this swansong for CBS), Järvi and his Parisian forces run that august team close, whether in the macabre machinations of the second-movement waltz or the volatility of the Finale, which here is a real rollercoaster of a ride, a gamut of sensations rubbing shoulders with solemn chant and intense reminiscences. Järvi, through telling tempos and their relationships leaves in no doubt of Rachmaninov’s white-hot frenzy, and the ultimate cut-off is, like Ormandy’s, brutal, whereas many conductors allow the gong to sound for numerous seconds and die away.
Both the Dances and the Third Symphony are marvellously scored, something the Paris Orchestra and Järvi relish, and they also dig into emotions and energies. The Symphony also has Philadelphia connections, the premiere given there in 1936 under Stokowski and followed by a composer-conducted recording. It’s a kaleidoscopic and imperishable work, in its unpredictability, beauty, power and sorcery. Järvi gives it an ebb and flow, avoiding mannerisms; he observes the first-movement exposition repeat (which the composer passed over) and goes on to capture fully the music’s depth of feeling and, in terms of creation, sheer virtuosity.
Placed last on the second disc is the (an) orchestral version of the Vocalise, heartfelt and touching, to close a very distinguished release made from concerts, applause removed, documenting interpretations that really get inside all the music here and offers further illumination of it. In terms of the major pieces here, and with glowing and tangible sound quality (a pertinent complement to the music-making), Paavo Järvi’s versions jump straight into the ‘among the very best’ category.