Friday, July 12, 2013

Montage # 113 – Festival / Rachmaninov / Festival (1/4)



As of August 9th, 2013, this montage will no longer be available on Pod-O-Matic. It can be heard or downloaded from the Internet Archive at the following address / A compter du 9 août 2013, ce montage ne sera plus disponible en baladodiffusion Pod-O-Matic. Il peut être téléchargé ou entendu au site Internet Archive à l'adresse suivante:

https://archive.org/details/Pcast113


pcast113- Playlist

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English Commentary – le commentaire français suit

Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943), pianist, composer, Russian in Exile first in Finland, then in America is a Musical Giant of the 20th century. He is also a man who underwent a life-changibng transformation shortky after the Russian Revolution, which forced him into a different career - that of a touring pianist - depriving us probably of some of his most creative years as a composer.
Rachmaninov is also indicative of a great transition in Russian Music History. As one of a generation of Russian composers that emerged at the beginning of the 20th century (along with Scriabin, Prokofiev, Stravinnsky and Shostakovich), he marks then end of the Russian Romantic/Nationalist movement espoused by Tchaikovsky and the Mighty Handful composers (led by Balakirev and Rimsky-Korsakov). To a large extent, Rachmaninov is (among his contemporaries) probably the composer who best tried to stay within the tradition of his predecessors, whereas the others embraced a more modern style.

If I had to pick "one" work that represents the Rachmaninov "style", I would pick today's symphony - his second. By 1906, the time when Rachmaninov began work of the Second Symphony, he had become not only a well-known pianist and conductor, but a composer of considerable renown. Ten years before, however, the abject failure of his First Symphony had robbed him of his confidence and plunged him into a dark depression.

In the next installment of the series (Friday, July 26), I will present two major works (the First Symphony and Second Concerto) that serve as testament for one of Rachmaninov's most famous struggles. It is more fitting to consider this second symphony (and the landmark Third concerto) as emblematic of Rachmaninov overcoming that very struggle.

The second is the epitome of the romantic symphony, gushing with emotion - not unlike Tchaikovsky's Fifth - and for proof one has to look no further than the Adagio, whose main theme is familiar to many thanks to pop singer Eric Carmen's 1976 song, "Never Gonna Fall in Love Again". The interplay between the French horn and orchestra is very reminiscent of the Tchaikovsky Andante cantabile from the fifth symphony. This slow movement re-examines aspects of the standard sonata form opening movement.

In the structure of the traditional Russian romantic symphony, a scherzo precedes the slow movement and a rousing, happy and triumphant Finale caps off the symphony. Rachmaninov will leave us three symphnies (four if one counts The Bells), but the second is the most widely played, and there is no doubt that the emotional appeal of the work to audiences (as a pure Romantic opus) has a lot to do with it.

Less heard, however, are the first and fourth piano concertos. The First has the distinction of being Rachmaninov's "opus 1", though he had composed some other works during his conservatory years - including an abandoned attempt at a concerto. Like Prokofiev's First, this is a student work - composition students were usually advised to base their efforts on a specific model for their first exercises in new forms. In this case the model was the Grieg Piano Concerto which was a favorite work of his.

Rachmaninov premiered the work at the Conservatory as soloist in 1892. In 1917, more than two decades - and two piano concerti - later, he revised the score thoroughly, shaping the work into the form in which it is known today, and it is the revised form we hear Rachmaninov play with the Philadelphia Orchestra in this 1941 recording.

I think you will Love this music too!

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Commentaire français

Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943), pianiste, compositeur, exile et errant (en Finlande, et finalement en Amérique) est sans contredit un géant de la musique du XXe siècle.

Son exil, précipité par la Révolution Bolchévique, a eu pour effet d’imposer un grand changement de carrière, devenant par la force des choses un pianiste de concert itinérant, qui nous privera de ses talents de compositeur lors de ce qui aurait dû être l’apogée de sa carrière.

Rachmaninov représente également une transition en musique Russe – passant de la génération des Tchaïkovski, Rimski-Korsakov et Balakirev à celle de Scriabine, Stravinski, Prokofiev et Chostakovitch. Rachmaninov est, parmi les compositeurs de sa génération, celui qu’on associe le plus avec le mouvement romantique et nationaliste de ses prédécesseurs, les autres adoptant une approche plus moderne.

Si on devait se limiter à une seule œuvre qui exemplifie la vision de Rachmaninov, on se doit de considérer sa deuxième symphonie. Rachmaninov entame sa composition vers 1906, peu de temps après avoir surmonté probablement  l’épreuve la plus difficile de sa carrière à ce jour. Nous reviendrons à cette épreuve lors du prochain volet de cette série (dans deux semaines), mais il suffit de noter que cette symphonie et le troisième concerto sont indicatifs d’un Rachmaninov en pleine possession de ses moyens comme compositeur, et que la dépression qui l’aura hanté précédemment est chose du passé.

La deuxième est un exemple frappant d’un romantisme excessif, qui me rappelle Tchaïkovski. Le clou de la symphonie est l’Adagio du troisième mouvement – un hymne romantique d’un lyricisme sans pareil, orné d’une complainte jouée par le cor (qui calque, à mon avis, l’Andante cantabile de la cinquième de Tchaïkovski). La sonate du premier mouvement, quant à elle, se dévoile dans une lenteur majestueuse. Un scherzo espiègle précède le mouvement lent, et une finale joyeuse et triomphale conclut la symphonie.

Des quatre concerti pour piano de Rachmaninov, le premier et le quatrième sont moins entendus que les deux autres, ce qui ne veut pas dire qu’ils sont moins intéressants. De prime abord, le premier concerto (l’opus 1 du compositeur) semble être un exercice étudiant – modelé après le concerto en la majeur de Grieg. Toutefois, la partition fut revisée vingt ans – et deux concerti – plus tard en 1917 (peu de temps avant l’exil du compositeur). Suite à cette revision, le concerto allie la naïveté d’un jeune compositeur à l’élan assuré d’un compositeur établi. Rachmaninov lui-même assura sa création en 1892, et confère son jeu à l’enregistrement (1941) de la version revisée retenu aujourd’hui.

Bonne écoute!