Composed in 1887, Rimsky-Korsakov conducted the premiere performance of Capriccio Espagnollater that year in St Petersburg. The work shows off several of the instruments in the sixty-seven piece orchestration with well-written solo passages, composed for his favourite musicians in the St Petersburg Imperial Opera Orchestra for whom he scored the Capriccio.
The Capriccio is structured in five movements, collected into a broader two parts comprising of the first three movements followed by the last two movements respectively. The first movement is a lively alborada dance, featuring clarinet solos that are taken over by solo violin later in the movement. Horns open the second, variazioni movement, passing the horn melody around the orchestra. The alborada returns in the third movement to end the first section. Brass, solo violin, flute, clarinet then harp open the fourth movement with a scena e canto gitano (scene and gypsy song), followed by a lilting dance. This continues straight into the final fandango asturiano dance for the fifth movement, and concludes with an exciting recollection of the opening alborada.
Almost a quarter of a century after the performance of his first piano concerto, Shostakovich composed his second piano concerto not to show off his own skills on the instrument, but to show off those of his son, Maxim. The first performance was given in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatoire on May 10, 1957, which was the nineteenth birthday of the soloist, Maxim Shostakovich.
Free of the political oppression that he and his music had been subjected to previously, Shostakovich injected joy and beauty into this concerto that unlike many of his previous works, seems genuine and heartfelt. A biography written of Shostakovich by Rabinovich in 1959 remarked that, ‘The Concerto shows the composer as through his own youth had returned to him … There can be no doubt that the composer made every effort to create a concerto to which youth would be receptive’.
Composed in three movements, the allegro opening movement has a lively, lilting theme introduced by the bassoon, and supplemented by clarinets and oboes. The solo piano answers, and displays octave piano writing that is one of the most prominent features of the work. The second, andante movement is scored more sparsely for solo piano and strings, and is some of Shostakovich’s most lyrical and beautiful writing. This flows seamlessly into the finale, which returns the piano octaves and perfectly conveys the youthful spirit of the dedicatee.
Following a series of unfavourable reviews, and poor receptions to his compositions, Rachmaninov decided to give up composing after completing his Third Symphony in 1936. He dedicated his musical efforts to his immensely successful career as a pianist, and was attempting to slow down towards retirement in his villa on the shores of Lake Lucerne when World War II broke out. He moved with his family to the United States, and composed his Symphonic Dances in the summer of 1940. Initial titled Fantastic Dances, once Rachmaninov had completed the orchestration, he altered the name to Symphonic Dances to reflect the orchestral nature of the work. The change of name was best described by the composer himself, when he stated to a newspaper reported, ‘It should have been called just Dances, but I was afraid people would think I had written dance music for jazz orchestra.’
There are three dances in this suite, with the opening movement beginning as a powerful march-like figure, before a contrasting middle section takes over. A unique colour is used in this movement, with an extended solo for the saxophone, which was the first time Rachmaninov had written for the instrument. In the coda we hear a theme that Rachmaninov had re-used from a previous work. It is actually a theme from his failed First Symphony, written into the Symphonic Dances sothat only he would understand the reference, as he had destroyed the score after its initial failure. The second dance is a mournful waltz that is far less like a Viennese dance and more like an oppressive folk waltz from Eastern Europe. Russian Orthodox liturgical chants and quotes from the Dies Iraefrom the Roman Catholic Mass for the Dead feature in the third dance. Acknowledging the references taken from religious music, and perhaps in anticipation that this was to be his last composition, the original score features the word, ‘Alliluya’ on the final page, and at the end of the manuscript, the words, ‘I thank thee, Lord.’