Yes, this celebrated composer and famous pianist, he was an impeccable conductor as well, rated equal to the great Koussevitzky in pre-Revolutionary Russia. But there’s scant sonic evidence of his work in this trade which he virtually abandoned in the second half of his career. The Boston Symphony offered him its musical directorship in 1918 — very interesting to speculate how that would have played out if Rachmaninoff hadn’t turned down the job, pleading he was out of practice in this sphere. But surely he can’t have forgotten he’d been observed conducting music of Bach, Beethoven, Berlioz, Bizet, Borodin, Brahms, Debussy, Dvorak, Franck, Gluck, Grieg, Liszt, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Ravel, Rimsky, Schubert, Richard Strauss, Tchaikovsky, Vivaldi, Wagner and Weber, not to mention Dargomizhsky and Moszkowski as well as Rachmaninoff of course.

At all events Rachmaninoff’s 1939 recording of his Third Symphony with the Philadelphia, his chosen orchestra, is an elegant and attractive piece of work, as dapper and close-cropped as his rather stern appearance. The performance reveals his romantic colors in his searching delivery of the opening movement’s first theme, peering eloquently into the unknown as if with a soulful myopia, and in the moonstruck delicacy of his slow-and-quiet account of the succeeding lyric theme, one of his Hollywood-ready inspirations even if he didn’t think of them that way! But it’s a romanticism clothed absolutely in a classic refinement: the performance is always tight, courtly, a succession of perfectly packaged and yes, organic units. It’s rather as if the conductor were a surgeon presiding over a near-bloodless procedure requiring the utmost in finesse.

This Philadelphia performance lacks the nervous excitement of a broadcast by Rachmaninoff’s countryman Koussevitzky up in Boston, but its lyric charms are most persuasive, it’s as fine a piece of musical porcelain as you’ll find anywhere. The collector who has a rumbling Porsche and a sleek Bentley in his or her two-car garage would be the proud possessor of both versions . . . And I can’t stop thinking about those might-have-beens, Rachmaninoff recording Beethoven and Brahms symphonies with the Boston Symphony. Writing this, I clutch at a veiled but unperishing childhood memory, the elderly Rachmaninoff coming on stage at San Francisco’s Opera House in 1941, a stooping figure moving toward the Steinway, friendly enough – he did have a good sense of humor — but gaunt as a film noir undertaker.