Rachmaninov died in exile in Beverly Hills California in 1943, a victim of the raging war in Europe. The war led to the death of millions of Russian people and any chance he had of returning home to the country he loved.
He composed his 3rd Symphony on the shores of Lake Constance in Switzerland between 1935/36 and it was premiered in Philadelphia by Stokowski in November 1936 – the performance was not a success by his standards and he recorded it himself with the same orchestra three years later. The Symphonic Dances followed four years later and proved to be in many ways his swansong and epitaph. As both works were presented first in the USA the general feeling is that this was Rachmaninov expressing his American style.
Nothing could be further from the truth and Kitayenko proves both these works are 100% Russian to the core. The opening melody of the 3rd Symphony might sound like the melody from a 1930s Hollywood movie but it quickly demonstrates that this is no Hollywood weepy but a powerful and muscular style encompassing all his previous developments. This leads to an equally fine, masterly presentation of the Symphonic Dances.
By coincidence, I found myself at a dinner party in Beverly Hills a few days ago and the house Rachmaninov lived in was around the corner. One of the guests had lived there all their life and remembered Rachmaninov from her childhood walking around with his wide brimmed hat. I played her this recording; her reaction was “you don’t get that sort of music in the movies any more!” I suppose he will never escape Beverly Hills but his music tells otherwise. These are fine performances particularly the symphony and well worth a listen. And at over 80 minutes, full value, too.
Gurzenich-Orchestra Cologne / Dmitri Kitayenko
OEHMS Classics OC 442 [80:47]