RACHMANINOFF Symphony No. 3. Mélodie, Polichinelle.
National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, Alexander Anissimov, cond.
Naxos 8.550808 (B) (DDD) TT: 51:38
Michael Gray in FI alerted me to this super-budget prize by Alexander Anissimov, a conductor born and trained in Russia, whose surname we should master: "Ah-NEE-see-moff," as in the herb that gives licorice its flavor. Leading the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, recorded both sonorously and sensuously in their Dublin home, he joins Mariss Jansons (EMI) and Ormandy (in a Sony twinpack containing all three symphonies) on my own short list of maestri who negotiate every tricky turn in the road without missing any of the scenery. In other words, he's far ahead of Dutoit, Maazel, Ashkenazy, Litton, Järvi, Zinman and Stokowski (off form near the end of his life, with the National Philharmonic of Britain) among conductors in and out of Schwann/Opus. The composer's own 1939 version with the Philadelphia Orchestra (remastered on Pearl,  RCA Gold Seal  and most effectively on Claremont) remains sui generis of course--a touchstone for all who love this fascinating work in spite of its quilt-like structure. Gray thought Anissimov too slow in the Adagio middle movement--two minutes slower than the coltish Janssons--yet his reading is lovingly intuitive and expressively coherent, with uniquely sweetened string trills.

 Fillers (arranger unnamed) are Nos. 3 and 4 from the early Morceaux de Fantasie, Op. 3. While characterful, they are no match for Jansson's superb reading of Symphonic Dances on a disc 20 minutes longer, albeit at triple the cost of Naxos' prize. (As of this writing, a new version by Mikhail Pletnyev and his Russian National Orchestra on D.G., had yet to appear at the local Tower, although John von Rhein of the Chicago Tribune had already heard it and very much liked it. While nothing to date from Pletnyev has specially impressed me, I'm open to persuasion so long as his brass have acquired body and a patina).

R.D. (Sept. 1999)