Implacable tread, eerie atmosphere, attention to the minutest of details (such as quiet timpani figures), a wide dynamic range, and great significance applied to invention and incident that makes this performance so compelling – to an impassioned climax via scenic vividness and emotional protest, with a numbed envoi once the music’s peak has passed. That’s The Isle of the Dead, after Böcklin’s painting, viewed by Rachmaninov from a black-and-white print; following which Vocalise (Opus 34/14, originally voice-and-piano, orchestrated in 1919 by the composer) is rushed, as if a 33rpm recording were being played at 45 and with unfortunate loudness and gloss.
The great Third Symphony (stunning music and superb orchestration for Philadelphia and Stokowski and recorded there by the composer) fares much better, although there are times when John Wilson can seem matter-of-fact or impatient, but he taps well into driven passages and anguished climaxes, such as inhabit the first movement (with exposition repeat, but also with what might be a bumpy edit at 13:55). The slow movement is beautifully done – nostalgic and yearning – the scherzo-like middle section finely poised, played with virtuosity, with Charlie Lovell-Jones’s violin solos later especially enticing; and if the Finale is just a notch too quick (even quicker on the opening material’s return), it is also emotive and (fugue) exciting and exacting, with the coda, led-off by a notable flute solo, chased by demons, unstoppable. Chandos CHSA 5297 [SACD], produced by Brian Pidgeon with demonstration sound engineered by Ralph Couzens, is released on November 4.