The history of the Philadelphia Orchestra and Rachmaninov (or Rachmaninoff as they spell him) goes back a long way. After he emigrated from his native Russia in 1917, the composer did not conduct again until he appeared before the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1939. The orchestra gave the premieres of his Symphony No. 3 and Piano Concerto No. 4, and he made various recordings with it. The late Symphonic Dances are dedicated to the orchestra and its then music director, Eugene Ormandy.

It has long been claimed that the rich, string-sated Philadelphia sound is the ideal for Rachmaninov’s music. Unlikely though it seems that this could still be the case more than 75 years later, when the orchestra’s personnel must have changed several times over, this disc proves otherwise.

The playing, the sound, the temperament, all are as if born for this music. The violins breathe a headily romantic air and the blend of the sound is at once clear and lavishly upholstered, with the orchestra gliding through the music like a luxury car on cruise control.

The main work is the Symphony No. 1. Much reviled at its premiere (a symphony to “delight the inhabitants of hell”), it could not have a more persuasive champion than it does here in Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the present music director at Philadelphia. He conducts a performance of tremendous drive, which never stints the lyrical beauty of the music, or makes it sound vulgar.

The Symphonic Dances, the ultimate Philadelphia/Rachmaninov work, gets a stunning performance, brilliantly played, a virtuoso display in every sense.


‘Rachmaninoff: Symphony No. 1’ is released by DG