LSO - Rachmaninov - Stravinsky

Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances are the composer’s last work, written in 1940.

Their pairing here with Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements is interesting on two counts – firstly that both works, though very different in conception, were written around the same time, and secondly that both composers were then in retreat from World War II, having found sanctuary in America. The disc provides a snapshot of how their creativity continued to flourish in the New World, though in rather different ways.

The Symphonic Dances are unmistakably Rachmaninov but include some unusual orchestral touches – occasional use of the piano as a kind of continuo, and several solos for the saxophone. Gergiev achieves wonderful fluidity in this reading, with seamless, whispy phrasing from the strings and some marvellous swooning solos from the LSO’s woodwind (particularly notable in the second movement, marked ‘Tempo di valse’). Key to this fluidity is a wonderful balancing of the orchestra, with snatches of melody dovetailing beautifully between instruments.

The Symphony in Three Movements is a different proposition, and Gergiev’s first Stravinsky release for LSO Live. It is an interesting place to start – written when Stravinsky had fled to Los Angeles and after a period of personal upheaval for the composer which included the death of his wife, mother and daughter. Stylistically the piece dates from the end of Stravinsky’s neo-classical period, when starker instrumentation and sparer structures had become his focus. Composed some thirty years after The Rite of Spring, the Symphony shows an orchestral imagination quite as startling as that of its more celebrated predecessor. The outer movements have an unstoppable rhythmic energy whilst the middle movement has a strangely reduced, song-like quality. It’s a perfect fusion of lyrical invention and fierce, motoric drive – dark, reflective and curiously optimistic.

Gergiev propels this performance with all the conviction you might expect, showing a grasp of later Stravinsky as impressive as his interpretations of the iconic early works. It is a great taster for his next Stravinsky releases.

James Mallinson, LSO Live Producer

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