Andre Previn's two performances with the London Symphony Orchestra are excellent, well recorded and have held up extremely well over the years. Previn's earlier recording for RCA (LSC 2990) has never been released on CD, as far as I know. It is more dynamic and intense than the somewhat later (mid-70s) recording for EMI, which is still excellent.
If you like an enveloping presentation then Telarc's version with Horatio Gutierrez is nice (especially for the sweeping orchestral stuff - although some complain it is too loud and piano deatil is lost because it is not close-miked)
Ashkenazy's recordings of all of the symphonies as well as the Symphonic Dances, Isle of the Dead, and The Bells, are outstanding. For both performance and the recording.
I haven't checked but I think they are available as a budget set now. His work, and Previn's, are IMHO, probably the best and I think the Ashkenazy and the LSO are better recordings and I like the performance much more. Until I got them I enjoyed Previn's, especially his #2.
Sonically the differences, to my ears, are basically that the Previn versions are a bit more lyrical (languid) and the Ashkenazy are more crisp and clear. To me its not a small difference. I like the pace, tension, color, whatever, that Askenazy brings to these already very lyrical symphonies. Unfortunately, from my POV, most performances really slow down the pace and what is initially very beautiful becomes boring on repeated hearings. FWIW, if you haven't already heard them and decided, I wouldn't be without Ashkenazy's Symphonic Dances! I indorse the set because you also get to hear his 1st Symphony which isn't too bad, and not much like #2 & 3.
With Rachmaninoff, the Previn and Ashkenazy interpretations Rushton and Newbee refer to are generally felt to be the top recommendations, both of them seem to have the right feeling for the music. I have the Previn EMI recordings both on CD and vinyl and like them a lot, both interpretively and sonically. I know that Classic Records released an RCA Rachmaninoff 3 from the RCA Living Stereo series on vinyl, but I don't believe it was Previn's version. I did not like it as much as the Previn.
Shadorne, I think you misread the question, you're thinking of Piano Concerto no. 3.
There have been a lot of recordings by the top recording labels of Rach Symphony No. 2, but very few (comparatively) of No. 3, as it is not as popular a piece, even though it is an audiophile's treat with its sonics. Your experience is why I go to concerts where they play things I have not previously heard--it opens up more new worlds to discover.
By the way, I know that the Minnesota Orchestra records extensively, currently with Ondine (they have been superbly recorded over the years). Any possibility that they recorded the concert and are thinking of making it available, either as a CD or online for downloads (as many orchestras are now doing)? You might ask the orchestra about it.
This is great. I'm getting goose bumps and I haven't even set foot in the record store yet. Thanks again.
In addition to those mentioned above:
Van Cliburn version with the Symphony of the Air
conducted by Kiril Kondrashin.
It is a live performance at Carnegie Hall in 1958. While having sort of passed him off for some years as over hyped have been listening to his recordings again and there is a subtlety that only now comes through that makes them sound so much better to me, then again it could be just age.
The Previn and Askenazy are both tops, but you might also want to check out Andrew Litton's cycle with the Royal Philharmonic on Virgin.
Second bite at the apple - I mentioned in passing Symphony #1. After posting I sat down and listened to it. This symphony should be far more highly regarded by audiophiles, IMHO. It is big! It is dynamic! It is engaging! and, even though it was his first symphony it resembles Symphonic Dances, his last symphony (in everything but name) quite a bit. Don't miss it. :-)
FWIW, by way of analogy only, comparing Rachmininoff's 1 and 2(3) is like comparing Beethovens 5 and 6, or Mahlers 1 and 4. A big difference in mood/drama.
I second Newbee's enthusiasm for Symphony No. 1, very underrated, as different from the others as he says, and the last movement is one of those audiophile spectaculars. Another of those works I would not have bought had I not heard it live in concert. The Ashkenazy is excellent, as is the EMI Previn, and Naxos has a version, coupled with his Capriccio Bohemienne (sounds a lot like Dvorak when you hear it at first, due to the melodies), which is also quite good.
I agree also that Litton should be pretty good, I have seen and heard him conduct Rachmaninoff and he too has a special feeling for this music.
Ashkenazy hard to beat; sound is not up to date, though (but his Isle of the Dead is tops, bone-chilling!).
For more up-to-date sound, I recommend David Zinman and Baltimore on Telarc. Playing is not quite as exciting as Ashkenazy, but it's georgeous. It's the one I usually pull out for a listen. I don't think I've ever heard cellos sing the way they do on this recording. Lopez-Cobos and Cincy on Telarc is excellent for Sym. no. 2, very romantic, very warm sound.
So get Ashkenazy for sheer excitement, Zinman and Lopez-Cobos for very romantic readings and excellent sound.
The Rachmaninoff Third is one of the most underrated masterpieces.
As several posters mentioned, the Previn and Askenazy recordings are standards. Don't forget the Ormandy Philadelphia recordings on Columbia. Ormandy had a close working relationship with Rachmaninoff.