Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Sergei Rachmaninoff – Symphony No. 1

   Sergei Rachmaninoff owes his fame to his piano concertos. His 2nd and 3rd concertos are probably most praised compositions for grand piano and orchestra. One may add the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. 1st and 4th concertos are not so popular. He was also recognized composer of symphonic and choral works, artist well known for his recordings and very popular virtuoso pianist. Even though he was not adequately valued for big part of his works, he remains one of most popular composers of 20th century music. His three symphonies were never as much popular as concerti, but in last decades of 20th and first decades of 21st century these great scale postromantic compositions are present in wide symphonic repertoire. So even if someone doesn’t like sound recordings, all three are not difficult to find in concert programs.
   Born in 1973 Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff – in his native language Сергей Васильевич Рахманинов – was one of the greatest romantic composers at the turn of the 20th century. But even seventy years after his death Rachmaninoff is the reason of some artistic controversy. He was extremely popular for his concertos and highly rated for performing skills. Although many historians were hostile about his style, seeing his music as it was just a continuation of Tchaikovsky and Borodin style. It is misconception, in fact Rachmaninoff’s style was criticized as too much modern, and this criticism pushed him to rejection of his 1st Symphony D Minor op. 13. In effect he lost his self-confidence, ceased composition and started to perform and conduct. Later the manuscript of the score disappeared and he did not return to the case of the bad luck numbered opus.

Sergei Rachmaninoff – Symphony No. 1 (1967)

   The irony of fate is later criticism of Rachmaninoff’s style as too much traditional. It was already time of growing interest on contemporary, intellectually arranged music and novelty of new concepts. And young Rachmaninoff was rather radical in experiments in his own way. In his first symphony he portrayed platonic love to Anna Lodyzhenskaya, giving dedication with initials A. L. and the same Biblical motto as Leo Tolstoy in Anna Karenina “Vengeance is mine; I will repay”. Other characteristic feature was using of motive from Dies irae sequence as one more reference to unrequited love. In cover notes Nicolas Slonimsky written Rachmaninoff destroyed the manuscript. Almost fifty years later, two years after Rachmaninoff died, in 1945 orchestral parts of Rachmaninoff’s 1st Symphony were discovered in archive of Leningrad Conservatory. Reconstructed and premiered in Moscow the same year Symphony was received with great success. Nicolas Slonimsky wrote: “Rachmaninov was dead, but he would probably have appreciated the irony of the resurrection of his youthful work”.
   Rachmaninoff’s 1st Symphony is great piece of romantic music. Starting with short solemn introduction Grave, it bursts with energy Allegro ma non troppo theme. Initially bright, after some modulations it changes into elegiac and then tragic, contrasted with melancholic second theme. Introduced by the violins Moderato is composed in gypsy scale which could be a reference to Anna Lodyzhenskaya, who was Romani descendant. This is only beginning of narration, continued in ironically dramatic scherzo Allegro animato. Third part Larghetto is the contemplative moment and a background for strong finale Allegro con fuoco.
   There are many great performances of this Symphony. Most appreciated were made by Vladimir Ashkenazy with Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra, Kurt Sanderling with Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, Lorin Maazel with Berliner Philharmoniker. All emotional depth of 1st Symphony was also perfectly rendered by the Philadelphia Orchestra and its conductor Eugene Ormandy in 1967. The Philadelphia Orchestra was the first orchestra Rachmaninoff has conducted during his emigration. It happened in December 1939 and it was the first time since his last Russian concert in January 1917. Rachmaninoff was recording his piano concerti with Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokovsky and Eugene Ormandy. Eugene Ormandy was also conductor of premiere performances of 3rd Symphony A Minor op. 44 and Symphonic Dances op. 45, late Rachmaninoff’s symphonic works.

No comments:

Post a Comment