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Rachmaninov, Sergei (1873-1943)

(Soloist Clemens Leske)

Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30

Allegro ma non tanto

Intermezzo – Adagio

Finale – Alla breve

The year of 1906 saw Rachmaninov Moscow to move to Dresden, and spend the next three years composing, away from the concert hall stage. His return to the concert hall stage wasn’t until 1909 when he was invited to perform in America, for which he composed a new piano concerto, his third of four concerti. After this long period of not performing, Rachmaninov was somewhat cautious of accepting the invitation to America, however the financial incentive was such that it would enable him to realise his dream of purchasing a new, American-made automobile.

Rachmaninov dedicated the Third Concerto to Josef Hoffmann, whom Rachmaninov considered to be the finest pianist of his time, however Hoffmann was never able to perform this concerto due to its complexity and hand-span required, and this work was premiered by the composer himself. The hand-span of Rachmaninov was able to cover a 13th (!), and while this concerto has become considered by many pianists as the ‘Everest’ of piano concerti, Rachmaninov considered it ‘more comfortable’ to play than his Second Concerto due not only to his formidable talent as a pianist, but by the size of his hands.

The beautifully simply opening of the first movement has been suggested to be derived from an ancient Russian liturgical chant, however Rachmaninov denied this and even suggested that the simple theme ‘just wrote itself’. Another feature of the opening movement is the inclusion of an impressive cadenza, of which Rachmaninov composed two, a short and a long version. Rachmaninov performed the short version at the premiere, however the popular version became more popular after Van Cliburn’s 1958 International Tchaikovsky Competition victory performing this concerto with the long cadenza. Despite its humble title ‘Intermezzo’, the second movement takes shape as a beautiful, expansive Adagio, with the chant from the first movement played by clarinet and bassoon. A brief, exciting transition leads us into the ‘Finale’, full of typically Rachmaninov invention and flair.

©Andrew Doyle 2018


Rimsky-Korsakov, Nikolai (1844-1908) Scheherezade, Symphonic Suite, Op. 35

As a strong nationalist and supporter of the music of his Russian colleagues, Rimsky-Korsakov felt obliged to re-orchestrate, and even finish incomplete works, including Borodin’s opera Prince Igor. He completed this work during the winter of 1887-88 with the aid of Glazunov, and the exotic Asian flavours stayed with Rimsky-Korsakov until the summer of 1888. A summer vacation provided the perfect inspiration for him to begin work on a new orchestral work based on tales from the Arabian Nights’ Entertainments.

Completed in just six weeks, Scheherezade includes an introduction in the score from Rimsky-Korsakov that reads:

The Sultan Shahriar, convinced of the duplicity and infidelity of all women, vowed to slay each of his wives after the first night. The Sultana Scheherazade, however, saved her life by the expedient of recounting to the Sultan a succession of tales over a period of one thousand one nights. Overcome by curiosity, the monarch postponed the execution of his wife from day to day, and ended by renouncing his sanguinary resolution altogether. Many were the marvels recounted to Shahriar by Scheherazade. For the telling of these things she drew from the verses of the poets and the words of folk songs and tales, connecting her stories one with the other.

Despite initially having titles to the each movement, ‘The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship’, ‘The Kalendar Prince’s Narrative’, ‘The Young Prince and the Young Princess’ and the combined tales of ‘The Festival at Baghdad/The Sea/The Ship Goes to Pieces on a Rock Surmounted by a Bronze Warrior’ that were meant to guide the audience through the work, Rimsky-Korsakov withdrew these titles and:

          …. Meant these hints to direct but slightly the listener’s fancy on the path which my own fancy had travelled, and to leave more minute and particular conceptions to the will and mood of the individual listener. All I had desired was that the hearer, if he liked my piece as symphonic music, should carry away the impression that it is beyond doubt an Oriental narrative of some numerous and varied fairy-tale wonders and not merely four pieces played one after the other ….

©Andrew Doyle 2018