Rachmaninoff | Music for Two Pianos | Symphonic Dances & Suites
Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff (1873 – 1943)
Music for Two Pianos
Suite No.1(Fantaisie-Tableaux), Op.5
Track 1: I. Barcarolle. Allegretto
Track 2: II. La nuit… L’amour. Adagio sostenuto
Track 3: III. Les Larmes. Largo di molto
Track 4: IV. Pâques. Allegro maestoso
Suite No.2, Op.17
Track 5: I. Introduction. Alla marcia
Track 6: II. Valse. Presto
Track 7: III. Romance. Andantino
Track 8: IV. Tarantelle. Presto
Symphonic Dances, Op.45
Track 9: I. Non allegro
Track 10: II. Andante con moto (Tempo di valse)
Track 11: III. Lento assai – Allegro vivace
LAVROVA PRIMAKOV DUO | RACHMANINOFF – MUSIC FOR TWO PIANOS | SYMPHONIC DANCES & SUITES
Just in time to celebrate Sergei Rachmaninoff’s birthday on April 1st, 1873, the Lavrova Primakov Piano Duo’s latest release features both of his monumental two-piano suites, written earlier on in his life and while he was still in Russia (1893 & 1901 respectively), along with his last work, The Symphonic Dances (1940), composed in the United States.
We are incredibly thrilled to present our readings of Rachmaninoff’s music for Two Pianos to our listeners. It is always a humbling experience to play his music, one might say even treacherous. 🙂
By now, we have been playing as a Piano Duo for nearly 4 years and only fairly recently had enough courage to enter the wondrous land of Rachmaninoff.
Actually, all of it happened by accident. We weren’t intending on learning both of the suites and the Symphonic Dances. We had the 2nd Suite under our belt and started performing it extensively and at the time, thought that it would be enough. Well, it turned out the universe had other plans for us. Next thing we knew, we were invited to perform at a very prestigious festival, with one condition – Symphonic Dances had to be on the program. So we learned that rather quickly. Then we entered another world all together and went off to a competition, for which we decided to learn the Fantasie (Rachmaninoff’s First Suite). After all this, we started entertaining the notion and brewing up some plans to attempt recording all of this someday, but were initially convinced that it would not happen for a while. Suddenly, due to unexpected and at the time quite strenuous circumstances, we found ourselves with 3 empty days that were set for our record label, LP Classics to record a completely different project all together. Two weeks before the project was supposed to be recorded, and all was set, things fell apart. Needless to say, we were stressed and a little heartbroken, but we did some quick thinking (and clearly did not want to give up the dates and the wonderful place that was all ready for us) and apparently decided that we were crazy enough to get ready and record Rachmaninoff in TWO WEEKS TIME!
Ah well, such is life 🙂 . We had a blast! And I think that those extreme circumstances worked in our favor, because despite the intense stress, sleepless nights and hours and hours of practicing, we still enjoyed ourselves immensely and had a blast putting this record together. This was a true PASSION project, filled with passion for music, passion for Rachmaninoff and Russian culture and passion and dedication to our friends and colleagues.
Rachmaninoff’s First Suite, Op. 5, called Fantaisie-Tableaux for two pianos, was written in the summer of 1893, when the composer was just twenty years old. He spent the summer with friends on a country estate near Kharkov. After he returned to Moscow, he paid a visit to his former teacher, the great composer Sergey Taneyev, where he encountered another friend, adviser and ardent supporter – P.I. Tchaikovsky. What transpired at that meeting is in Rachmaninoff’s Recollections, as told to Oskar von Riesemann. Tchaikovsky was much impressed with the success of the Prelude (the famous C # Minor Prelude Op.3, that was written two years prior), as well as with the considerable amount of music his young colleague had managed to compose up to that point. “And I, miserable wretch,” he remarked, “have only written one Symphony!” That symphony, the last work to come from his pen, was the Pathétique.
At that meeting, Rachmaninoff told Tchaikovsky that he was dedicating his Fantasie for Two Pianos to him and the plan was set for Rachmaninoff to premiere it and Tchaikovsky was to attend that concert. Unfortunately, that never took place for later that year, Tchaikovsky passed away.
The Suite No. 1 for Two Pianos represents Rachmaninoff’s first attempt at writing program music. Maybe the definitive Rachmaninoff stamp is not yet affixed to this work, but there are many passages, which are unmistakably characteristic and prophetic, while the technical, tonal and interpretive resources of the two keyboards have been employed with masterly insight. The work is in four movements, headed by verses from Lermontov, Byron, Tyoutchev and Khomiakov. The movements are entitled, respectively, Barcarolle, La nuit… L’amour… (The Night…The Love…), Les Larmes (The Tears) and Pâques (Easter). The first movement is full of warmth and romanticism; the second and third are rather nostalgic, full of longing and melancholy, and the finale is a short, exuberant imitation of the bells of the Kremlin ringing out on Easter morning. Rachmaninoff and Mussorgsky must have heard those bells with ears similarly attuned, for there is definite similarities between the Easter movement of this Suite and the sound of the bells in the great Coronation Scene from “Boris Godunov”, which also takes place before the Kremlin.
At dusk half-heard the chill wave laps/ Beneath the gondola’s slow oar.
… …once more a song! once more the twanged guitar! …
…now sad, now gaily ringing, The barcarolle comes winging.
The boat slid by, the water clove: So time glides o’er the surge of love;
The water will grow smooth again, But what can rouse a passion slain!
“It is the hour” (Byron, from Parisina)
It is the hour when from the boughs/ The nightingale’s high note is heard;
It is the hour — when lover’s vows/ Seem sweet in every whisper’d word;
And gentle winds and waters near, / Make music to the lonely ear.
Each flower the dews have lightly wet, / And in the sky the stars are met,
And on the wave is deeper blue, / And on the leaf a browner hue,
And in the Heaven that clear obscure / So softly dark, and darkly pure,
That follows the decline of day/ As twilight melts beneath the moon away.
Tears, human tears that pour forth beyond telling,
Early and late, in the dark, out of sight,
While the world goes on its way all unwittingly,
Numberless, stintless, you fall unremittingly,
Pouring like rain, the long rain that is welling
Endlessly, late in the autumn at night.
Across the earth a mighty peal is sweeping
Till all the booming air rocks like a sea,
As silver thunders carol forth the tidings,
Exulting in that holy victory…
If the First Suite was inspired by a stay in the Russian countryside, the Second Suite, Op. 17, may be said to have been born in a psychiatrist’s office. Rachmaninoff’s First Symphony, bearing the fateful opus number 13, had been a failure at its premiere in St. Petersburg in 1897, and he immediately suppressed it, hiding the score and parts. The work was not performed again until two years after his death, but its failure left an indelible imprint upon the sensitive young composer. He fell into a state of melancholy brooding and apathy, which lasted for three years, during which time he composed nothing.
Finally, his cousins, the Satins, with whom he was living, induced Rachmaninoff to visit Dr. Nicolai Dahl, a practitioner in the science of hypnosis and auto-suggestion, and himself an amateur musician. Between January and April, 1900, he paid daily visits to the doctor’s office where, sitting half-asleep in a chair, he listened to the same words, repeated over and over again: “You will begin to write your Concerto …, You will work with great facility …, The Concerto will be of an excellent quality …” The reason for the insistence upon a concerto was that Rachmaninoff had promised to compose his Second Piano Concerto for presentation in London, but had been unable to make any progress of it.
The plan worked. Dr. Dahl’s psychiatric treatment started Rachmaninoff back on the road to creating new music. Before long, he not only had enough ideas for his Concerto but there was sufficient material left over for his Suite No. 2 for Two Pianos, which was completed in 1901 and published before the Concerto. Other works came in quick succession as well. These included the Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op. 19; the Cantata Spring, Op. 20; Twelve songs, Op. 21; the Variations for Piano on a Theme of Chopin, Op. 22, and Ten Preludes, Op. 23.
Considering the fact that it took root in Rachmaninoff’s mind simultaneously with the Second Piano Concerto, it is not at all surprising that the Second Suite for Two Pianos sounds as if it had been cut from the same cloth. Like the Fantasie, it is also in four movements: the first movement is a robust Introduction; the second – and most popular – is a vivacious and quite exhilarating Valse; the third is a beautiful, poetic Romance; and the fourth is a brilliant Tarantella, which recalls more than any of its companion sections the style and mood of the Second Concerto.
Rachmaninoff wrote an arrangement of his Symphonic Dances for two pianos simultaneously with the orchestral version. The first performance of this arrangement was famously performed by the composer, along with Vladimir Horowitz, at a private party in Beverly Hills, California in August 1942. Rachmaninoff began to work on this piece, (his final composition) in the summer of 1940. The premiere, with Eugene Ormandy conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra, took place on January 3rd, 1941. It received a rather negative reception that crushed Rachmaninoff. The last 25 years or so have witnessed a strong growth in appreciation of this moody, many-layered and spectacularly orchestrated work, as testified by numerous recordings and live performances.
Symphonic Dances continued Rachmaninoff’s obsession with the Dies irae, a somber melody drawn from the medieval plainchant Mass for the Dead. He had previously quoted it in several works. The Dies irae appears several times in veiled form in the first movement of the Symphonic Dances. This movement (Non Allegro) begins quietly, expectantly, before introducing its bold, thrusting main subject. The long, floating melody of the central section is probably one of Rachmaninoff’s most amazing lyrical creations.
Within the framework of a symphonic waltz, the second dance (Andante con moto: Tempo di valse) presents a haunted vision of the ballroom. It lies closer in spirit to Ravel’s La valse or the Valse triste of Sibelius than the joyous dance-poems of the Strauss family. Introduced by eerie, muted fanfares, it turns on a troubled waltz tune. The spirit of the dance never maintains itself for long. The music regularly slows almost to a halt, as if in nervous anticipation of impending catastrophe, or shadowed by memories of past horrors. A mood of nostalgic reverie attempts to assert itself mid-way through, only to be shattered by the return of the opening fanfares. The tempo accelerates through a passage of mounting hysteria, only to peak quickly, then end with equal abruptness.
The final movement is a grand witches’ sabbath that would make Berlioz or Mussorgsky proud. Pervaded from the opening bars by the Dies irae, it seethes with manic, diabolical energy. A reflective and lamenting middle section provides contrast. With the return of the opening material, a furious conflict breaks out between the Dies irae and a traditional Russian religious chant, Blessed is the Lord. The chant finally gains the upper hand, and an Alleluia theme drawn from Rachmaninoff’s choral work Vespers rings out triumphantly. On that note, Rachmaninoff concluded his career as a composer – and made his final musical/ philosophical statement – with a representation of the victory of his deeply held religious faith over the powers of darkness and death. At the end of the manuscript score, he inscribed, “I thank Thee, Lord.”