RACHMANINOV: Preludes, Op. 32 / Liebesleid and Liebesfreud (Idil Biret/ Martin Sauer) (Naxos: 8.550466)
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Sergey Rachmaninov (1873 - 1943)
ThirteenPreludes, Op. 32
Kreisler (arr. Rachmaninov) Liebesleid
Sergey Vasilyevich Rachmaninov was bornat Semyonovo in 1873. His family, one of strong military traditions on both his father'sand mother's side, was well-to-do, but the extravagance of his father made it necessary tosell off much of their land. Rachmaninov's childhood was spent largely at the oneremaining family estate at Oneg, near Novgorod. The reduction in family circumstances hadat least one happier result. When it became necessary to sell the estate at Oneg and tomove to St. Petersburg, the expense of education for the Imperial service proved toogreat. Rachmaninov could make use, instead, of his musical gifts, entering St. PetersburgConservatory at the age of nine as a scholarship student.
Not a particularly industrious student and lacking theattention that he needed at home, in 1885 Rachmaninov failed his general subjectexaminations at the Conservatory and there were threats that his scholarship would bewithdrawn. 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 teacher of knownstrictness. In Zverev's house, however uncongenial the strict routine, he acquired much ofhis phenomenal technique as a pianist, while broadening his musical understanding byattending concerts in the city. At the age of fifteen he became a pupil of Zverev's formerpupil Ziloti at the Conservatory, studying counterpoint and harmony with Sergey Taneyevand Arensky. His growing interest in composition led to a quarrel with Zverev and removalto the house of his relations, the Satins.
In 1891 Rachmaninov completed his pianostudies at the Conservatory and the composition of his first piano concerto. Thefollowing year he graduated from the composition class and composed his notorious Prelude in C sharp minor, a piece that was to haunthim by its excessive popularity. His early career brought initial success as a composer,halted by the failure of his first symphony, conducted badly by Glazunov, apparently drunkat the time, and reviewed in the cruellest terms by Cesar Cui who described it as astudent attempt to depict in music the seven plagues of Egypt. Rachmaninov busied himselfas a conductor, signing a contract with the Mamontov opera company. As a composer,however, he suffered from the poor reception of his symphony and was only enabled tocontinue after a course of treatment with Dr. Nikolay Dahl, a believer in the efficacy ofhypnotism. The immediate result was the second of his four piano concertos.
The years before the Russian revolution brought continuedsuccessful activity as a composer and as a conductor. In 1902 Rachmaninov married NatalyaSatina and went on to pursue a career that brought him increasing international fame.
There were journeys abroad and a busy professional life, from which summer holidays at theestate of lvanovka, which he finally acquired from the Satins in 1910, provided respite.
All this was interrupted with the abdication of the Tsar in 1917 and the beginning of therevolution.
Rachmaninov left Russia in 1917. Fromthen until his death in Beverley Hills in 1943, he was obliged to rely largely onperformance for a living. Now there was very much less time for composition, as heundertook demanding concert tours, during which he dazzled audiences in Europe and Americawith his remarkable powers as a pianist. His house at lvanovka was destroyed in theRussian civil war, and in 1931, the year of the Corelli Variations, his music was bannedin Russia, to be permitted once more two years later. He spent much time in America, wherethere were lucrative concert tours, but established a music publishing house in Paris andbuilt for himself a villa near Lucerne, where he completed his Paganini Rhapsody in 1934 and his Third Symphony ayear later. In 1939 he left Europe to spendhis final years in the United States.
The first set of Preludes, published in 1903 as Op. 23, begins a series that, with thethirteen Preludes of the later Op. 32, completed in 1910, makes use of all major andminor keys, with the exception of C Sharp Minor, already claimed by the Op. 10 Prelude in that key. The procession of keys,however, lacks the logic of Chopin's similar work. The thirteen Preludes of Opus32 open in a dramatic C major, followed by a gentle Siciliano rhythm in thesecond Prelude, in B fiat minor. Ahistrionic E major Prelude is followed bythe increasing brilliance of its successor, in E minor. Relatively tranquil lyricalmoments continue to alternate with the passionate or dramatic, as the series unfolds,reaching what some have regarded as its height in the tenth Prelude, in B minor. The mood subsides to a liltingB major, a singing G sharp minor and a final D fiat major, a positive and optimisticanswer to the Slav melancholy perceived in its isolated earlier counterpart in C sharpminor.
To transcribe a work of Fritz Kreisler is a case of thetranscriber transcribed, since the Austrian violinist was an adept at the art, althoughsome of his transcriptions were, in fact, original compositions, as was later revealed.
The celebration of the joys and sorrowsof love, described as old Viennese dances, seems to be original Kreisler.
Rachmaninov, however, with the possibilities of the piano in front of him, makes of bothcompositions works of much greater complexity, demanding more of the player than Kreislerhad done of the violinist. The first of the two, in particular, is much extended.
Born in Ankara, Idil Biret began piano lessons at the age ofthree. She displayed an outstanding gift for music and graduated from the ParisConservatoire with three first prizes when she was fifteen. She studied piano with AlfredCortot and Wilhelm Kempff, and composition with Nadia Boulanger.
Since the age of sixteen Idil Biret has performed in concertsaround the world playing with major orchestras under the direction of conductors such asMonteux, Boult, Kempe, Sargent, de Burgos, Pritchard, Groves and Mackerras. She hasparticipated in the festivals of Montreal, Persepolis, Royan, La Rochelle, Athens, Berlin,Gstaad and Istanbul. She was also invited to perform at the 85th birthday celebration ofWilhelm Backhaus and at the 90th birthday celebration of Wilhelm Kempff.
Idil Biret received the Lily BoulangerMemorial Fund award (1954/1964), the Harriet Cohen/Dinu Lipatti Gold Medal (1959) and thePolish Artistical Merit Award (1974) and was named Chevalier de l'Ordre du Merite in1976.