• The 1897 premiere of Rachmaninov’s Symphony No 1 is always described as “a fiasco”. Whatever the reason – one explanation is that the conductor was drunk – Rachmaninov hid it away. He quoted it at the end of his life in the Symphonic Dances (1940), dedicated to the Philadelphia Orchestra, who gave the first performance. The orchestra’s new album, Rachmaninov: Symphony No 1 and Symphonic Dances (Deutsche Grammophon), from live concerts in 2018 and 2019, pairs the two works.
Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts meticulous, pliant accounts, combining raw, brassy anguish (especially in the finale of the symphony) with velvety, poetic romanticism (notably in the waltzing second movement of the Dances). Rhythms are taut, solos brilliantly coloured. For those who will wonder: at the end of Symphonic Dances, Nézet-Séguin allows the tam-tam to resound after the orchestra has stopped: its own moment of dying glory.
• Pianist Clare Hammond has a knack of mixing repertoire to revealing effect. Her latest album, Variations (BIS), is a sequence of seven sets of 20th- and 21st-century variations. The description of the form – a theme repeated many times with modifications – may seem unpromising, but the displays of invention can be dazzling, especially in the way Hammond programmes them.
Harrison Birtwistle’s From the Golden Mountain (a reference to Bach’s Goldberg Variations), stark, explosive, on a tight rein, is followed by John Adams’s I Still Play, allusive, fluent and also inspired by the Goldbergs. In addition to Szymanowski’s monumental Variations on a Polish Theme, Helmut Lachenmann’s 5 Variations on a Theme of Franz Schubert, and works by Copland and Hindemith, the high point is the grand finale: Sofia Gubaidulina’s ambitious Chaconne (1963). Hammond has given us an ear-bending and virtuosic recital.
• The excellent Scottish Chamber Orchestra is midway through its series of Friday lunchtime premieres of films of concerts given last year. All are available online for 30 days. Next up: Brahms’s String Sextet.