Noseda writes of his journey with Symphony No. 1: ‘Having conducted several times the Rachmaninoff second and third symphonies, I've been wondering continuously why the first of his symphonies has been neglected or considered not as good as its later sisters. In the last couple of years the level of my curiosity has increased so much that I've taken seriously the task of studying, learning and finally performing Rachmaninoff's first symphony. The result astonished me greatly: the symphony has such a beauty in the melodic line, the harmony is so refined, the structure is well controlled and yet everything seems naturally fluent.'
Regarded as one of the most remarkable composers of the twentieth century, Serge Rachmaninoff wrote three romantically inclined symphonies, two of which are now standard orchestral repertoire. However, the premiere of Symphony No. 1 was such a disaster that Rachmaninoff refrained from composing anything more for the next three years. The conductor, Glazunov, is reputed to have been drunk, and Rachmaninoff was unable to attend the entire performance. He reacted by tearing up the score. Thankfully for posterity, the instrumental parts were preserved and rediscovered in 1945, permitting the work to be restored. It is a work full of youthful fervour, distinctive and sweeping themes, and nationalist sentiments, and is now widely regarded as a vivid example of his early talent. It is complemented here by the ‘Youth Symphony', the first movement of a projected but never completed symphony in D minor, composed when Rachmaninoff was only seventeen, and the great symphonic poem The Isle of the Dead, inspired by Arnold Böcklin's painting of the same name which Rachmaninoff had seen on display in Paris in 1907. Composed in 1909, it is still a relatively early work, but contains some of the dark Russian spiritual qualities which Rachmaninoff was to develop further in his later compositions.
'Chandos's superbly weighty yet detailed sound registers every tiny inflection of this mesmerising score, from the insinuating brooding opening to the work's terrifying climax as Charon, the ferryman of the dead from Greek mythology, delivers the latest body to its final resting place. Once heard, this awesome work will haunt your memory for days.' Classic FM Magazine
'[It] receivers a landmark performance from the BBC Philharmonic and Gianandrea Noseda... Noseda demonstrates the music's power, eloquent beauty and structural cohesion.' The Telegraph
'Listening to this exhilarating performance - now a repertory piece, though still rarely programmed in concert - it is hard to fathom its initial lack of success. Chandos's brilliant recording enhances a performance that takes us on an emotional rollercoaster ride: the passion and despair of the composer's unrequited love for a married women is drawn with febrile drama here.' Sunday Times
'This outstanding performance is well complemented by Rachmaninov's unfinished ‘youth' Symphony, written when he was only 17, and the ‘Isle of the Dead', a dark musical response to the gloomy painting of Arnold Bocklin.' The Observer
'Yet even this splendid reading [Isle of the Dead] along with the hard-to-find Youth Symphony must be deemed icing on the cake set beside Noseda's white-hot account of Rachmaninoff's still sorely underrated D minor - a wonderful piece, wondrously set forth by the BBC players. If this is no one-off, it will be good to hear what Noseda does with the Second Symphony.' American Record Guide
'Noseda's notable Rachmaninov cycle with the BBC Philharmonic starts to arrive on CD. Nothing could be more liquid or gloomy that his reading of the superb poem The Isle of the Dead. His gifts for mood-juggling and structural flow ensure equally fine accounts of the student Youth Symphony and the composer's official stormy Symphony No. 1. The full Chandos sound makes everything glow in the dark, especially the shadowy scherzo.' The Times
'Gianandrea Noseda's performance of the First Symphony projects an unstuffy demeanour and trim athleticism to remind the listener that Rachmaninov was still a young man of 21 when he embarked upon it. Unlike some of his bigger-name colleagues, Noseda eschews sensation for its own sake and gratuitous point-making. Emotions are always under control (the slow movement's hesitant love song radiates sweet innocence), and he secures a conspicuously well coordinated response from his Manchester band.' Gramophone
'This [the Symphony] is beautifully done... However, the masterpiece on the disc is of course Isle of the Dead. Aided by a recording of excellent range and depth, Noseda gives a strong and colourful performance.' International Record Review