Evgeny Svetlanov

Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 3; The Isle of the Dead

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Whether you love it or you hate it, you have to admit that Evgeni Svetlanov and the USSR Symphony Orchestra's 1968 live recording of Rachmaninov's Symphony No. 3 is an astounding performance of the work. You could love it because of the extravagant vehemence of its expressivity, because of the exaggerated brilliance of its colors, because of the excessive drama of its structure, or because, in a word, it is the most Romantic performance of the work ever recorded. Or you could hate it for the same reason. But it is an astounding performance. Svetlanov is not the most nuanced of conductors, nor is the USSR Symphony the most subtle of orchestras, but its passion fills every bar of the work, infusing the 1943 symphony by the 62-year-old composer with all the ardor of youth. You could find it more than distasteful to see a man of mature years as aroused and excited as Svetlanov portrays him in this performance. Or you could find it astoundingly involving and even immensely moving to see that the old Rachmaninov was just as vital and vigorous and absolutely as Romantic as the young Rachmaninov.

But whether you love or hate Svetlanov's Rachmaninov's Third, you will love his 1966 recording of Rachmaninov's Isle of the Dead, an overwhelmingly forceful, overpoweringly passionate, and ultimately terminally morbid performance. And however you feel about Svetlanov's Rachmaninov's Third or his Isle, you probably will not feel much of anything except muted admiration of his 1973 recording of Rachmaninov's Scherzo in D minor, an exercise in composition and orchestration by the 14-year-old composer that is given a merely competent performance. Moscow Studio Archive's sound is raw, rough, and without much body or depth.

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