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Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 3; Vocalise

5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Audio CD, October 26, 2010
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Editorial Reviews

Leopold Stokowski was a close friend and champion to many composers, especially the Russians who were exiled in the USA after the revolution. Chief among them were Stravinsky and Rachmaninov. The US premiere of The Rite of Spring was conducted by
Stokowski, and in 1920 the US premiere of Rachmaninov's choral symphony 'The Bells' was given by Stokowski, who together with the composer had premiered the revised
version of the first Piano Concerto.
It was natural that when Rachmaninov completed his Third Symphony in 1935, Stokowski would give the premiere, which took place on 6 November 1936. Although the work is the composer's orchestral masterpiece, it was met with a lukewarm reception, and Stokowski never conducted it again in public. Rachmaninov's music seemed in danger of falling out of favour, and the appalling Grove 5th edition entry on the composer may well have coloured
Stokowski's decision to reduce the number of the composer's works he programmed. However, at the age of 93 Stokowski returned to the studio, and to his friend's Third Symphony with an orchestra of hand-picked London musicians. The recording is a
remarkable achievement. Stokowski proved that he had new things to say about this masterpiece, and the performance bristles with excitement and tension.

Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. Vocalise, transcription for orchestra, Op. 34/14
  2. Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 44: 1. Lento - Allegro moderato - Allegro
  3. Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 44: 2. Adagio ma non troppo - Allegro vivace
  4. Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 44: 3. Allegro - Allegro vivace

Product Details

  • Orchestra: National Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Conductor: Stokowski
  • Composer: Rachmaninov
  • Audio CD (October 26, 2010)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Newton Classics
  • ASIN: B0040Y7F6E
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #387,930 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Format: Audio CD
It only takes about two minutes of listening to realize that here is something special, an unqualified recommendation with no if's, and's, or but's. The interpretation is, to say the least, highly idiosyncratic (it is Stokowski, after all), and it may not appeal to everyone grown accustomed to a more traditional approach. The Third contains none of the big, memorable themes of Rachmaninov's more overtly Romantic Second Symphony, one of the reasons it often comes off by comparison as rather humdrum and rambling. At best, say under Previn (EMI) or Ashkenazy (London), conductors have made the Third sound lush, if not always exciting. Under Stokowski, however, the Third takes on new dimensions, imbued with a passion I've never found in it before.

John J. Puccio
Classical Candor
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Leopold Stokowski and Sergei Rachmaninov were good friends. They met when Rachmaninov made his first tour of the United States in 1909, when the composer made his debut performing his own Second Piano Concerto with the Cincinnati Symphony, conducted by Stokowski. Over the years, Stokowski gave the American premieres of The Bells and was the dedicatee of Three Russian Folk Songs. Stokowski conducted the world premier of the Third Symphony in 1936, and although the performance was excellent, critics and the public were dumbfounded by the symphony where Rachmaninov opted for shorter, less opulent melodies than he conceived for his Second Symphony. Stokowski never conducted the Third Symphony in public again but turned to it in 1975 when he was 93 to make this recording.

Stokowski's reading of the Third Symphony is exciting and bold, especially in the second movement where he adopts faster tempi than any other conductor. His Allegro vivace certainly lives up to its name. Whereas Rachmaninov's own recording of the symphony clocks in at 11:43, Stokowski's comes in at 9:49. The faster tempi add to the overall drama of the movement, which I find an interesting alternative to the more "accepted" tempi. The first movement is spacious with luminous playing by the National Philharmonic Orchestra, whose members were hand-picked by Stokowski. The melodies flow and build very gradually to the mid-movement orchestral climax with superb effect. The Finale is energetic and dramatic leaving one wanting for more The performance of the Vocalise is superb and beautifully phrased. Stokowski provides an expansive tempo that gives the music a sensuous feel.

I found myself listening in awe to this performance two or three times in a row when I received it. The sound that Stokowski achieves is brilliant with sensitive playing from his orchestra. The sound can be termed lush and rich compared to the recording by the composer but it is a very persuasive performance.
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