There was a finesse to the ensemble's playing and some careful balancing of orchestral textures. But Rachmaninoff's best known symphony is filled with climaxes both subtle and shattering, each of which was hampered by Armstrong's dry acoustics. This is music that first and foremost has to bloom.
Those acoustical deficiencies also tended to make the orchestra capable of achieving a fine blend sound more like a group of soloists. The woodwinds usually projected adequately but the brass often sounded like they were playing in an adjacent room.
The second movement, a fast-paced Allegro, had many lovely nuances, while Shao's handling of the Adagio, a movement that features one of Rachmaninoff's most gorgeous romantic melodies, unfolded with heartfelt longing.
The symphony's finale should almost literally raise the roof given the composer's remarkable orchestration, but once again, the hall kept too tight a lid on the proceedings. Still, Shao and his orchestra did right by this repertoire, both conceptually and in performance. I'd love to hear what they could accomplish in a more flattering acoustic.
— Rick Rogers