Slatkin Aces Late Rachmaninov

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 9

Leonard Slatkin’s Vox Rachmaninov cycle was one of his most successful early series of recordings, and he still has the measure of this music. The key to the Third Symphony lies in not playing it like the Second. In other words, even though the second subject of the first movement is one of those luscious, romantic tunes for which the composer is famous, the movement as a whole falls to pieces if the conductor plays it too indulgently. This doesn’t happen in the Second Symphony, or the First, where the music doesn’t have the same kind of momentum as we find in the Third.

Slatkin clearly understands this. He doesn’t slam on the brakes at this point, but maintains the music’s flow. And so it all coheres, as it does in the central Adagio with its effortlessly integrated scherzo section, and even in the usually episodic finale. Similarly, in the Symphonic Dances, the opening Non allegro never drags, and the big tune features a particularly soulful saxophone solo. The central waltz has the right rhythmic lilt without losing its spooky atmospherics, and in the finale the central Lento never sounds as though an episode from another work has accidentally wandered in.

Slatkin is also one of those conductors who lets the tam-tam decay naturally on the last chord. Not only does the music sound better when done that way, it also follows the composer’s admittedly ambiguous notation more logically. Through it all the Detroit Symphony plays the music about as beautifully as it can be done, and Naxos’ engineering is excellent. As with this team’s previous version of the Second Symphony, these performances are solid winners that will reward repeated listening.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: This Coupling: Jansons (EMI)

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