Leonard Slatkin / Detroit Symphony Orchestra

Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 3; Symphonic Dances

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This recording of Rachmaninov's Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 44, and Symphonic Dances, Op. 45, is notable in the history of American classical music over and above its specifically musical qualities, for it marks the phoenix-like revival of an orchestra given up for dead. As the finances of America's hardest-hit city declined during the 2007-2010 recession, the orchestra suffered a crippling strike and general gloom about its future. Due not least to the leadership of music director Leonard Slatkin, the organization has rebounded and launched a modest recording program. What's perhaps most exciting about that is the reentry of Detroit's Orchestra Hall, fabled for the recordings made by conductor Paul Paray for the Mercury label's Living Presence series, into the catalog. It is an exceptional 1920s space, modest in size and warm in sound, in all ways closer to what Rachmaninov would have imagined for his music than the modernist sarcophagi with which so many such halls have been replaced. You even get a picture of the hall wedged into Naxos' unvarying design. Slatkin has talked in the past about how he adapts his Rachmaninov performances to this space, and he does so again here. The more garish aspects of the Symphonic Dances, with its Dies irae quotation morphing into a Russian Alleluia, and the percussion parts generally, are kept under control, while the symphony's glorious melodies, the last stand of the Romantic era in 1936, are allowed to flower luxuriantly. A crack Russian or British orchestra might be smoother in places, but there is a confident musicality here that is immensely appealing, and it has everything to do with a group of young players who realize that they are under the gun and have what it takes to succeed, under seasoned leadership. Highly recommended.

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