RACHMANINOV: Piano Concertos Nos. 2 and 3 (Antoni Wit/ Bernd Glemser/ Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.5508.10)
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Sergei Rachmaninov was born in April 1873, and entered the Moscow Conservatoire in 1891 to become the pupil of Siloti for piano and Arensky for composition. In 1891 he was awarded their highest prize, the Gold Medal, and two years later had his first success as a composer with the one act opera, Aleko. He was so gifted that he had to divide his time between his engagements as solo pianist, conductor and composer. In 1903 he was appointed Piano Professor at the Maryinski Institute in Moscow.
As a composer he was not always successful, and suffered severe traumas after the rejection of his first symphony. The story of the hypnotist that restored his confidence is now in musical folklore. He did, however, enjoy tremendous success as a virtuoso pianist, many describing him as the greatest of all the Russian virtuosos. These tours took him to the States where he was particularly acclaimed. It was there that he decided to make his home when the Communists took control in Russia, though he had a second home in Paris where he enjoyed taking his summers.
His list of compositions is vast, and includes three symphonies, four piano concertos, three operas, symphonic poems, and a considerable amount of vocal and chamber music. Yet it was his solo piano music that made him a household name.
He died at his home in Beverley Hills, Los Angeles, in 1943, having been taken ill in the midst of a concert tour.
His Second Symphony, of 1907, had proved such a success that it was strange that it should be 28 years before he wrote the Third. During that period his music had changed as he tried to adopt to the changing musical scene. It was still a work of melodic passion, out of the mood of the time in which it was composed, but still a work of both vigour and beauty. It was fashioned in three long movements. After a slow introduction, the work burst forth in radiant splendour, the music demanding a virtuoso orchestra. The central movement is typical of Rachmaninov at his most lyrical, while the finale is one of his most brilliant creations, highly coloured by the prominent percussion.
The Mélodie in E and Polichinelle are two of his piano works gathered together under the Morceaux de fantaisie, and though it carried the low opus number 3, Polichinelle probably dates from the late 1930's, while the Mélodie in E is a 1940 revision of an earlier work. The two works are heard here in uncomplicated orchestrations.
Made in the National Concert Hall in Dublin during April 1996, and followed public performances in the hall.
There are now over 25 different recordings of the Third Symphony now available on international release. The Classics for Pleasure recording is in the Naxos price range, and will shortly be reissued in the new launch of the label. Other than that Previn and the London Symphony have a highly acclaimed version on EMI at mid price, more generously coupled than Naxos with the Shostakovich Sixth Symphony. Naxos have the advantage of two rarely performed works as fillers, not otherwise available at any price in international circulation.
This is the first in a complete Rachmaninov symphony cycle from Anissimov and the National Symphony. The series will also enclose The Bells.