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Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 4


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Sergey Rachmaninov(1873-1943)


Piano Concerto No. 1in F sharp minor, Op. 1


Piano Concerto No. 4in G minor, Op. 40


Rhapsody on a Theme ofPaganini, Op. 43



Sergey VasilyevichRachmaninov was among those Russian composers who chose exile rather thanremain in Russia after the Revolution of 1917, the consequent civil turmoiland, as it turned out, the years of despotic oppression that followed. He wasborn at Semyonovo in 1873 into a family of strong military traditions on hismother's side and more remotely on his father's. A tendency to extravagance haddepleted his father's fortunes and made it necessary to sell off much of theirland and dissipating his wife's dowry. As a result of this, the childhood ofRachmaninov was largely spent at the one remaining family estate at Oneg, nearNovgorod. The reduction in family circumstances had at least one happierresult: when it became necessary to sell this estate and move to St Petersburg,the expense of educating the boy for the Imperial service proved too great.

Rachmaninov could make use, instead, of his musical gifts, entering StPetersburg Conservatory at the age of nine with a scholarship.



Showing no particularindustry as a student and lacking the attention he needed at home, in 1885Rachmaninov failed all his general subject examinations at the Conservatory andthere were threats that his scholarship would be withdrawn. His mother, nowseparated from her husband and responsible for her son's welfare, arranged, onthe advice of the well known pianist Alexander Siloti, that he should move toMoscow to study with Zverev, a teacher known to impose the strictestdiscipline. In Zverev's house, however uncongenial the rigorous routine,he acquired much of his phenomenal ability 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 student Siloti, a musician who had alsostudied with Tchaikovsky, Nikolay Rubinstein and, thereafter, with Liszt.

Rachmaninov had lessons in harmony and counterpoint with Sergey Taneyev andArensky, and his growing interest in composition led to a quarrel with Zverevand removal to the house of his relations, the Satins.



In 1891 Rachmaninovcompleted his piano studies at the Conservatory and the composition of hisPiano Concerto 1. The following year he graduated from the composition classand composed the notorious Prelude in C sharp minor, a piece that was tohaunt him by its excessive popularity. His early career brought initial successas a composer, halted by the failure of his first symphony at its firstperformance in 1897, when it was conducted badly by Glazunov, apparently drunkat the time, and then reviewed in the cruelest terms by Cesar Cui who describedit as a student attempt to depict in music the seven plagues of Egypt.

Rachmaninov busied himself as a conductor, accepting an engagement in thiscapacity with Mamontov's Moscow Private Russian Opera Company. He was only ableto return to composition after a course of treatment with Dr Nikolay Dahl, abeliever in the efficacy of hypnotism. The immediate result was the second ofhis four piano concertos, a work that has proved to be one of the mostimmediately popular of all he wrote.



The years before theRussian revolution brought continued successful activity as a composer and as aconductor. In 1902 Rachmaninov married Natalya Satina and went on to pursue acareer that was bringing him increasing international fame. There were journeysabroad and a busy professional life, from which summer holidays at the estateof Ivanovka, which he finally acquired from the Satins in 1910, providedrespite. During the war, however depressing the circumstances, he continued hisconcert engagements, not being required for military service, as he had anticipated.

All this was interrupted by the abdication of the Tsar in 1917 and thebeginning of the Revolution.



Rachmaninov leftRussia in 1917; from then until his death in Beverly Hills in 1943, he wasobliged to rely largely on performance for a living. Now there was, inconsequence, much less time for composition, as he undertook demandingconcert-tours, during which he dazzled audiences in Europe and America with hisremarkable powers as a pianist. His house at Ivanovka was destroyed in theRussian civil war and in 1931, the year of his Variations on a Theme ofCorelli, his music was banned in Russia, to be permitted once again twoyears later. He spent much time in America, where there were lucrativeconcert-tours, but established a music publishing-house in Paris and built forhimself a villa near Lucerne, where he completed his Rhapsody on a Theme ofPaganini in 1934 and his Third Symphony a year later. In 1939 heleft Europe, to spend his final years in the United States.



Rachmaninov completedthe Piano Concerto No. 1 in F sharp minor during the summer of 1891. Hehad brought forward his final piano examination at Moscow Conservatory by ayear, to avoid a change of teacher, with Siloti's resignation from theConservatory after the appointment of Safonov as director. Once he hadsuccessfully completed his examinations he had traveled with Siloti toIvanovka, then a summer estate belonging to the Satins. He performed the firstmovement of the concerto at a student concert at the Conservatory the followingspring, as he prepared for his final examination in composition, the writing ofa one-act opera, for which he received the Great Gold Medal, a raredistinction. It was not until 1917 that Rachmaninov revised the concerto, whichhe had dedicated to Siloti, working on it in Moscow in the early winter. ByDecember he had left Russia, never to return. The chance of a concertengagement in Stockholm allowed him to leave the country, followed by his wifeNatalya and his two daughters. Now his first three piano concertos, the secondcompleted in 1901 and the third in 1909, became part of his stock-in-trade,along with the concertos of Tchaikovsky and of Liszt.



The Piano Concerto No.

1 was not, in fact, Rachmaninov's first attempt at the form. In 1889 hehad sketched the plan of a Concerto in C minor, which was never completed. TheConcerto in F sharp minor, in its earlier form, was performed byRachmaninov on a number of occasions, but he grew increasingly dissatisfiedwith it and recast it completely during those uneasy weeks in late 1917, givingthe orchestration greater clarity and in general tightening the construction.

The first movement opens with a brass fanfare, followed by a rapid solo passageof descending octaves and the weighty chords that we might have expected. Theorchestra introduces the first theme, taken up by the soloist. There is asecond theme, marked meno mosso, and the opening of the movement has apart to play in what follows, notably in the extended cadenza. The slowmovement, in D major, has been compared to a Chopin Nocturne. It isrelatively short and almost at once allows the piano to have its own way in anexpressive melody, leading to increasing complexity of figuration. The final Allegrovivace, opening in 9/8, contradicted in the second bar by the piano'squadruple-time 12/8, continues this pattern of contrasting metres. Theexcitement of the opening leads to a more tranquil mood in a central sectionmarked Andante ma non troppo, in the key of E flat. The original key andmood are restored as the concerto moves forward to its final optimistic F sharpmajor.



Rachmaninov completedhis Piano Concerto No. 4 in G minor between January and August 1926 andgave the first performance the following March
Facts
Item number 8554477
Barcode 636943447727
Release date 12/01/1999
Category Piano
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Performers
Artists Biret, Idil
Biret, Idil
Composers Rachmaninov, Sergei
Rachmaninov, Sergei
Conductors Wit, Antoni
Wit, Antoni
Orchestras Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra
Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra
Disc: 1
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43
1 Vivace
2 Andante
3 Allegro vivace - Andante ma non troppo - Tempo pri
4 Allegro vivace
5 Largo
6 Allegro vivace
7 Introduction
8 Variation 1
9 Theme
10 Variation 2
11 Variation 3
12 Variation 4
13 Variation 5
14 Variation 6
15 Variation 7
16 Variation 8
17 Variation 9
18 Variation 10
19 Variation 11
20 Variation 12
21 Variation 13
22 Variation 14
23 Variation 15
24 Variation 16
25 Variation 17
26 Variation 18
27 Variation 19
28 Variation 20
29 Variation 21
30 Variation 22
31 Variation 23
32 Variation 24
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