RACHMANINOV: Preludes Op. 23 / Cinq morceaux de fantaisie (Idil Biret/ Martin Sauer) (Naxos: 8.550348)
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SergeyRachmaninov (1873 - 1943)
Ten Preludes, Op.
Cinq Morceaux defantaisie, Op. 3
SergeyVasilyevich Rachmaninov was born at Semyonovo in 1873. His family, one ofstrong military traditions on both his father's and mother's side, waswell-to-do, but the extravagance of his father made it necessary to sell offmuch of their land. Rachmaninov's childhood was spent largely at the oneremaining family estate at Oneg, near Novgorod. The reduction in familycircumstances had at least one happier result. When it became necessary to sellthe estate at Oneg and to move to St. Petersburg, the expense of education forthe Imperial service proved too great. Rachmaninov could make use, instead, ofhis musical gifts, entering St. Petersburg Conservatory at the age of nine as ascholarship student.
Not aparticularly industrious student and lacking the attention that he needed athome, in 1885 Rachmaninov failed his general subject examinations at theConservatory and there were threats that his scholarship would be withdrawn.
His mother, now separated from his father and responsible for the boy'swelfare, arranged that he should move to Moscow to study with Zverev, a teacherof known strictness. In Zverev's house, however uncongenial the strict routine,he acquired much of his phenomenal technique as a pianist, while broadening hismusical understanding by attending concerts in the city. At the age of fifteenhe became a pupil of Zverev's former pupil Ziloti at the Conservatory, studyingcounterpoint and harmony with Sergey Taneyev and Arensky. His growing interestin composition led to a quarrel with Zverev and removal to the house of hisrelations, the Satins.
In 1891Rachmaninov completed his piano studies at the Conservatory and the compositionof his first piano concerto. The following year he graduated from thecomposition class and composed his notorious Prelude in C sharp minor, apiece that was to haunt him by its excessive popularity. His early careerbrought initial success as a composer, halted by the failure of his firstsymphony, conducted badly by Glazunov, apparently drunk at the time, andreviewed in the cruellest terms by Cesar Cui who described it as a studentattempt to depict in music the seven plagues of Egypt. Rachmaninov busiedhimself as a conductor, signing a contract with the Mamontov opera company. Asa composer, however, he suffered from the poor reception of his symphony andwas only enabled to continue alter a course of treatment with Dr. Nikolay Dahl,a believer in the efficacy of hypnotism. The immediate result was the second ofhis four piano concertos.
The years beforethe Russian revolution brought continued successful activity as a composer andas a conductor. In 1902 Rachmaninov married Natalya Satina and went on topursue a career that brought him increasing international lame. There werejourneys abroad and a busy professional life, from which summer holidays at theestate of Ivanovka, which he finally acquired from the Satins in 1910, providedrespite. Ail this was interrupted with the abdication of the Tsar in 1917 andthe beginning of the revolution.
Rachmaninov leftRussia in 1917. From then until his death in Beverley Hills in 1943, he wasobliged to rely largely on performance for a living. Now there was very muchless time for composition, as he undertook demanding concert tours, duringwhich he dazzled audiences in Europe and America with his remarkable powers asa pianist. His house at Ivanovka was destroyed in the Russian civil war, and in1931, the year of the Corelli Variations, his music was banned inRussia, to be permitted once more two years later. He spent much time inAmerica, where there were lucrative concert tours, but established a musicpublishing house in Paris and built for himself a villa near Lucerne, where hecompleted his Paganini Rhapsody in 1934 and his Third Symphony ayear later. In 1939 he left Europe to spend his final years in the UnitedStates.
The first set of Preludes,published in 1903 as Opus 23, begins a series that, with the thirteen Preludes
of the later Opus 32, completed in 1910, makes use of all major and minor keys,with the exception of C sharp minor, already claimed by the Opus 10 Prelude
in that key. The procession of keys, however, lacks the logic of Chopin'ssimilar work. Opus 23 opens gently enough, in F sharp minor, proceeding to amore grandiose second B flat Prelude, as the mood of the Second PianoConcerto takes over. A third, marked Tempo di minuetto, soon forgets itsopening in a more overtly romantic texture. Moving from D minor to D major, thefourth Prelude offers a simple enough melody, soon to be developed,followed by a G minor march of increasing intensity The sixth recalls the SecondPiano Concerto once more, while the cascading notes of the seventh andeighth are as unmistakably by Rachmaninov as the chromatic deluge of the ninth,capped by a solemn but lyrical final G flat major, returning to the tonality ofthe opening.
Rachmaninov wrotehis famous Prelude in C Sharp Minor in Moscow in the autumn of 1892 andplayed it in public for the first time at a concert at the Electricalexposition. It was to prove an embarrassingly successful piece, a tact that atfirst brought him some pleasure and later some misgivings, as audienceseverywhere clamoured for its inclusion in any recital programme he gave andarrangements for a diversity of instruments followed, including one for thebanjo and another for trombone quartet. The Prelude itself is a dramaticand impassioned piece, redolent with supposed Russian melancholy. It ispreceded in the five Morceaux de fantaisie of 1892 by an equallymelancholy Elegie and followed by a gently nostalgic Melodie. Polichinelle
is as capricious as its title would suggest and the set of pieces, thecomposer's first to be published, ends with a Serenade in Spanish style.
Born in Ankara,Idil Biret began piano lessons at the age of three. She displayed anoutstanding gift for music and graduated from the Paris Conservatoire withthree first prizes when she was fifteen. She studied piano with Alfred Cortotand Wilhelm Kempff, and composition with Nadia Boulanger.
Since the age ofsixteen Idil Biret has performed in concerts around the world playing withmajor orchestras under the direction of conductors such as Monteux, Boult, Kempe,Sargent, de Burgos, Pritchard, Groves and Mackerras. She has participated inthe festivals of Montreal, Persepolis, Royan, La Rochelle, Athens, Berlin,Gstaad and Istanbul. She was also invited to perform at the 85th birthdaycelebration of Wilheim Backhaus and at the 90th birthday celebration of WilhelmKempff.
Idil Biretreceived the Lily Boulanger Memorial Fund award (1954/1964), the Harriet Cohen/DinuLipatti Gold Medal (1959) and the Polish Artistical Merit Award (1974) and wasnamed Chevalier de l'Ordre du Merite in 1976.