The clue's in the title. Symphonic Dances. OK, so there are two clues... symphonic and dances. Do the two mix? Having thought that Valery Gergiev would emphasise the latter, the LSO's new recording of Rachmaninoff's 1940 masterpiece declares symphonic credentials. Portentous and a little dull, it overstates this nimble music. Even Stravinsky's mordant glance at symphonic heritage feels stodgy.
It's surprising given Gergiev considerable terpsichorean skill. His performances of Tchaikovsky's and Prokofiev's ballet scores are impassioned but delicate. Here, Rachmaninoff's ballet manqué is shown in a stodgy light. Rather than aggressive attack, the LSO clomps through the first movement. The more lyrical middle section ekes forward, but the transitions are week and the score feels disjointed.
The second and third dances fare better, though even here the wit of Rachmaninoff's late style is overburdened. When the sweeping waltz finally settles in, it is given a Rosenkavalier sheen, yet it would be even more luscious if cast in relief. For a truly bobbing performance, choose Ashkenazy and the Concertgebouw.
Gergiev returns to form in the ferocious and full-blooded opening to Stravinsky's Symphony in Three Movements. It has a instant capricious quality. The quick attack of the LSO strings and piano communicates wit at last. But it doesn't last long enough and the Andante lacks bounce. The final movement feels belaboured and po-faced, making for a disappointing recording. The LSO play well on their own terms, but Gergiev needs to lighten up.