The Symphonic Dances (1940) come from Sergei Rachmaninov's last years (born in Novgorod in 1872 he died in Los Angeles in 1943) and constitute indeed his final work. Critics still treat Rachmaninov harshly. In "The Companion to 20th Century Music," Norman Lebrecht notes that in his lifetime Grove's dictionary "found him impossibly low brow" and he adds that this reputation has not entirely faded among Anglo-Americans and East Europeans. Lebrecht himself judges Rachmaninov "a reflective man who thirsted after new ideas, relished the company of intellectuals and held a liberal humanist outlook." This "thirst[ing] after new ideas" shows itself musically in the compositions of the artist's final decade, from the Paganini Rhapsody (1934) through the Third Symphony (1936) and the Symphonic Dances. The Paganini Rhapsody at once varies and develops its famous demonic theme with a contrapuntal rigor (one almost wants to say "fierceness") whose only parallel is to be found in Schoenberg's Variations for Orchestra - although these two works could hardly differ more in their outward appeal. The Third Symphony (A-Minor) likewise leans heavily on a motivic and developmental conception of the form even while generating a glittering and seductive surface that speaks immediately to the audience. The Symphonic Dances continue Rachmaninov's exploration of new techniques and by rights qualify as a Fourth Symphony in all but name. Valery Polyansky has now recorded the Second and Third Symphonies as well as the Symphonic Dances for Chandos. His Symphonic Dances comes coupled with Rachmaninov's earlier choral symphony "The Bells," after Poe, as translated by Konstantin Balmont. Note Polyansky's timing in The Symphonic Dances: Like his countryman Mikhail Pletnev he requires 37 minutes compared, say, to David Zinman who needs 34 or Eugene Ormandy who needs 35. The slower pace emphasizes the symphonic over the choreographic character and allows Polyanksy to do what he does in the Second and Third Symphonies: Bring out details of the inner processes and instrumentation that we have never properly attended before. The lovely saxophone lament at the center of the First Movement, woven about with spare filigree from the woodwinds, has never sounded more sad and ravishing. The Second Movement has never been quite so distinctly waltzlike. The Finale has never before exhibited such breadth and the concluding tam-tam stroke is allowed to die away lengthily where other conductors cut it off. "The Bells" also fares well under Polyanksy, being haunted and lugubrious throughout. But the real revelation here is in the new view of the Symphonic Dances. Engineering is superb.