Symphony No.3 in A minor, Op.44
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Recorded on 8 December 2007 in Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: January 2009
CD No: LPO – 0036
Duration: 53 minutes
The concert itself was a great success. Hopes that the Bax and Rachmaninov pieces would be issued on compact disc have been gratifyingly met.
I direct you to my review of the concert itself (link below). Suffice it to say that the glowing memories of the performances have survived the transfer to posterity, and very well recorded, too, even if, at times, the Royal Festival Hall is a given a depth and ambience it doesn’t have in reality. (Why not preserve things as they actually are?) Here upper strings can sound rather remote and there’s a textural curiosity in Tintagel – from 2’26” (that gloriously expansive melody) – where the flute is highlighted and the orchestra is just distant enough for the acoustic-signature to be anywhere but the RFH.
Nevertheless, the performance of Bax’s most popular piece seems even finer than it did it in the Hall; maybe not as lustrous as with Barbirolli or as through-lined as Handley, but impressive enough to be preserved: there are some resplendent moments, not least from the lung-filled horns. It is perhaps no surprise, given Bax’s admiration for Sibelius, and Osmo Vänskä’s devotion to the Finnish master, that this conductor should be such a natural Baxian. Hopefully he will explore further pieces by this still-peripheral composer.
Rachmaninov’s great symphony receives a wholly convinced account, brilliantly played and very sympathetically conducted. The composer poured his heart and soul – and a quite masterly orchestration – into this wonderful piece. The LPO and Vänskä do it full justice. If the recorded sound, while very fine (and better still if you turn the volume up higher than normal), does not necessarily equate to sitting in the Stalls of the Royal Festival Hall, the real triumph is that these performances can be relished beyond the concert. It’s nice when things work out!