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Rachmaninoff 150 in Philadelphia

Deutsche Grammophon

Rachmaninoff: Symphonies 2 & 3; Isle of the Dead—Philadelphia Orchestra/Yannick Nézet-Séguin (Deutsche Grammophon 4864775)

This June 30 release celebrates the 150th anniversary of the birth of Sergei Rachmaninoff. It follows the same artists’ 2021 pairing of Symphony No. 1 and the Symphonic Dances, which was widely praised. And no wonder. The Philadelphia Orchestra has had a close association with Rachmaninoff since the composer made his first appearance with the ensemble during his American tour in November 1909, displaying his triple-threat talents as composer-pianist-conductor. Oh, to have been in the Academy of Music that night! Rachmaninoff led a performance of his monumental Second Symphony, the work that opens this two disc set. The “Fabulous Philadelphians” are equally at home in the more compact Third Symphony, which received its world premiere in 1936 with The Philadelphia Orchestra and was recorded for the first time by them three years later under Rachmaninoff’s direction. The album closes with Isle of the Dead, the tone poem inspired by a painting by Swiss symbolist artist Arnold Böcklin, a dreamlike scene of a figure in a small boat, rowing towards a foreboding, desolate island. The atmospheric score dates from 1909, and its associations with death are heightened by plentiful quotations of one of Rachmaninoff’s favorites themes, the Dies irae motif (which insinuates itself into the Third Symphony as well).