RACHMANINOV: Piano Concerto No. 2 / Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (Budapest Symphony Orchestra/ Gyorgy Lehel/ Jeno Jando/ Monika Feszler) (Naxos: 8.550117)
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Sergey Rachmaninov (1873 - 1943)
Piano Concerto No.2 in C Minor, Opus 18
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Opus 43
The Russian composer and pianist Sergey Rachmaninov was born in 1873,the son of aristocratic parents. His father's improvidence, however, was tolead to a change in the fortunes of the family, when increasing debts led tothe sale of one estate after another, followed by removal to an apartment inSt. Petersburg. It was in that city that Rachmaninov, at the age of nine,entered the Conservatory on a scholarship.
The subsequent separation of his parents and failure in general subjectexaminations was to bring about Rachmaninov's move to the Moscow Conservatory,where he was under the strict supervision of Nikolay Zverev. In Moscow he wasto win considerable success as time went on, both as a performer and as acomposer, although it was the second of these roles that seemed likely to bethe more important.
The Communist Revolution of 1917 was to bring many changes. While somemusicians remained in Russia, others chose temporary or permanent exile.
Rachmaninov took the latter course, and found himself obliged to rely on hisvery considerable gifts as a pianist in order to support himself and hisfamily. At the same time he was to continue working as a conductor. Compositioninevitably had to take second or third place, and it was principally as aconcert pianist, one of the greatest of his time, that he became known toaudiences.
In 1897 Rachmaninov's first symphony had been performed in St.
Petersburg under the direction of Glazunov, who, according to his wife's lateraccount, was drunk at the time. The work was badly played and received ahostile critical reception. Cesar Cui, indeed, a surviving member of theMightly Handful, the five leading Russian nationalist composers, described itas a student programme symphony of the Seven Plagues of Egypt, an unflatteringjudgement that contributed to the composer's depression and loss of confidence.
The C Minor Piano Concerto
was written in 1900 and 1901 and is dedicated to Dr. Nikolay Dahl, under whomRachmaninov had undergone a course of psychiatric treatment that restored hiscreative urge. The second and third movements of a work that was to prove to beone of the most popular romantic piano concertos, were completed in the summerof 1900 and the first movement in the following year. In November 1901 it wasperformed in Moscow under the direction of Rachmaninov's cousin, AlexanderZiloti, with the composer as soloist and was received with the greatestenthusiasm. The work has retained its position in the repertoire, although ithas at the same time served as a model for regrettably vulgar imitations thathave nothing of the innovative inspiration of the original.
The first movement of the concerto opens with eight dramatic chordsfrom the piano, followed by the first theme from the strings, accompanied bypiano arpeggios. The second subject, played by the soloist, is introduced by aphrase on the viola, rhapsodic style by the pianist in a development and in arecapitulation to which the soloist adds an initially martial element.
In the slow movement the orchestra moves gently from the key of C minorto the remote key of E major, in which the soloist enters with characteristicfiguration. The principal theme is introduced by flute and clarinet, beforebeing taken up by the soloist. The more rapid central section of the movementsuggests the mood of a scherzo, leading to a powerful cadenza.
With scarcely a pause the orchestra introduces the final movement, afurther cadenza leading to the first theme, with a second announced by the oboeand violas. Both are treated rhapsodically by the soloist, the second themeforming a romantic contrast to the more energetic rhythm of the first.
The Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
was written in the space of a few weeks in 1934 and is based on the theme usedby Paganini as the basis of a set of solo violin variations that form the lastof his 24 Caprices. The melodywas to serve other composers, such as Brahms and Liszt, and has continued to doso.
To Rachmaninov the Paganini theme suggested the complementary use ofanother, more ancient melody, that of the sequence that once formed part of theLatin Requiem Mass, the Dies irae. This second melody, whichRachmaninov had used appropriately enough in The Isle of the Dead, was toappear again in his final work, the SymphonicDances of 1940. It had served other 19th century composers as asymbol of death, whether in the Symphoniefantastique of Berlioz, in Liszt's TotentanzThird Suite.
Although the Rhapsody seems in origin to have had no programmaticsignificance, the composer provided a narrative explanation for Fokin's ballet Paganini, the choreographic version of thelegend according to which the great violinist had sold his soul, Faust-like, tothe Devil in return for perfection as a violinist and for the love of a woman(romantic rumours that Paganini himself had been at pains to contradict). The Dies irae is taken to represent the Devil,while the original theme is Paganini himself. Certainly the variations thatmake up the Rhapsody include episodes of lyrical tenderness, forming a centralsection of romantic intensity, followed by what might seem the brilliantdiablerie of the last six of the 24 variations.
Jeno Jando was born at Pecs, in south Hungary, in 1952. He started tolearn the piano when he was seven and later studied at the Ferenc Liszt Academyof Music under Katalin Nemes and Pal Kadosa, becoming assistant to the latteron his graduation in 1974. Jando has won a number of piano competitions inHungary and abroad, including first prize in the 1973 Hungarian Piano Concoursand a first prize in the chamber music category at the Sydney InternationalPiano Competition in 1977. In addition to his many appearances in Hungary, hehas played widely abroad in Eastern and Western Europe, in Canada and in Japan.
Budapest Symphony Orchestra
The Budapest Symphony Orchestra, part of the Hungarian Television andBroadcasting Organisation, was established after the Second World War and underits Principal Conductor Gyorgy Lehel has won some distinction. Through itsfrequent broadcasts and its recordings it has become widely known, and itstours have taken it to the countries of Eastern and Western Europe as well asto the United States of America and Canada. The orchestra has worked with someof the most distinguished conductors and soloists of our time.
The distinguished Hungarian conductor Gyorgy Lehel was born in Budapestin 1926 and studied composition with pal Kadosa and composition with LaszloSomogyi, making his debut as a conductor in 1947. He was appointed principalconductor and music director of the Budapest Symphony Orchestra in 1962 andappeared in 1968 with the orchestra at the Cheltenham Festival, where heconducted first performances of music by Gordon Crosse and Elizabeth Maconchy.
In a busy career Lehel has performed extensively in Hungary and abroad,in Western and Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, the United States of America,Japan, Australia and New Zealand. His many recordings include a considerableamount of music by Liszt and Bartok, and he has long been known for the gr