LSO/Gergiev Rachmaninoff Festival (Symphonies 1 & 3)

Symphony No.1 in D minor, Op.13
Symphony No.3 in A minor, Op.44

London Symphony Orchestra
Valery Gergiev

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 21 September, 2008
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Valery GergievThe London Symphony Orchestra opened its new season with three Rachmaninov (spelling flexible!) concerts in 24 hours. This second (afternoon) one coupled the First and Third symphonies, relative Cinderellas in relation to the Second.

Valery Gergiev didn’t always seem on top of the ‘lost and found’ First Symphony, diluting its tragedy somewhat (certainly in the doom-laden final bars) and some of the playing, especially from first violins (the seconds were appositely sitting opposite), needed a little more preparation. It was, in some respects, too ‘operatic’ a performance, yet also curiously restrained (the martial opening to the finale hung fire – short of pomp and there was even less circumstance), and not avoiding the composer’s episodic construction. Furthermore, in common with some other Russian conductors, Gergiev seems to use an edition of the score that attracts far-too-much cymbal colour, which here palled early on. In a reading that rarely cohered, the Allegro animato second movement needed a more relaxed tempo and greater dynamic finesse; by contrast, the Larghetto was deeply eloquent and given with rapt sensitivity.

Sergei RachmaninovBy further contrast, the Third Symphony was given an utterly compelling account, Gergiev altogether more involved with this than he had seemed with the First. If the playing was again not always pristine, rubato not always unanimous, there was a buzz to the LSO’s response that captured fully the multifarious moods of this (underestimated) fabulously orchestrated masterpiece. At times Gergiev was controversially slow (which revealed much detail) – yet it was refreshing to find him intervening in this way, like his interpretation or not.

From the chant-like colouring of the opening bars, through an exposition that charted despair to optimism (with speeds to match, and making the repeat a perhaps unnecessary backtracking – far too personal to be heard twice), to the disturbing and eventually disillusioned development, the first movement, unfurled on a huge and malleable scale, had a real emotional charge that was maintained in the following two movements, whether richly lyrical, fantastical, determined, fugal, reflective or desperate.

Solos in the THird Symphony were distinguished – not least from Andrew Haveron (violin), David Pyatt (horn), Gareth Davies (flute) and Emanuel Abbühl (oboe). Good to report too that, at last, Gergiev may have found a restraining ear for the LSO’s brass section (here including the three-times-retired Maurice Murphy still blowing his trumpet!) To date, Gergiev and the LSO have done nothing finer or more interesting than this ‘Rach 3’.

  • Concert broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 7 October
  • LSO
  • Barbican

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