One of Rachmaninov's greatest strengths as a composer is the way he concludes a piece. In most of his best music, the denouements have a sense of inevitability and mounting excitement. When the end finally arrives, it's usually with a grand peroration that lifts the listener out of his seat.
Among his major works, the Symphony No. 3 is the exception to that rule -- and it was with that problematical work that Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Music Director David Zinman chose to end his all-Rachmaninov program last night in Meyerhoff Hall in the third of the orchestra's Summerfest concerts. I've always been convinced that this symphony would rank among the composer's most often played pieces were it not for its conclusion. The composer doesn't even signal that he's ending the piece until about 30 bars from its finish and the coda -- to borrow a word from program annotator David Wright -- just "tumbles" out. It takes a brave man to program this piece and a good conductor to make it work.
David Zinman is both. He led his fine orchestra in a performance that had abundant energy and drive and ardor. Perhaps the last of those qualities was the predominant one. In recent years, Zinman's Rachmaninov -- his new Telarc recording of the Symphony No. 2 is a fine example -- has grown ever more luxuriant in the way it caresses the composer's long-breathed melodies. Unlike some other conductors who are given to slower tempos, however, Zinman never lets the line sag.