Slatkin colours Rachmaninov’s finest

Both Symphony No. 3 and the Symphonic Dances, Rachmaninov’s last work, offer a summation of his late style in blending intense rhythmic energy with rich romanticism.

Leonard Slatkin enjoys close ties to Rachmaninov: his great–uncle brought the composer to the US and conducted the premiere of his Second Symphony.

Listen to our podcast with the conductor talking to Gail Wein about his recordings of the Rachmaninov symphonies with the Detroit Symphony, and about his life in Motor City.
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About the Works
Symphony No. 3
(beginning of the 3rd movement)
Completed in 1936, two years after the hugely popular Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Rachmaninov’s Third Symphony was considered by the composer to be one of his finest works. The symphony starts with a distant Russian motto theme, played pianissimo by a muted solo cello, horn and two clarinets, followed by a more emphatic outburst from the orchestra. The first subject, which has still further importance in the central development of the first movement is announced by oboes and bassoons, a theme characteristic of the composer in its lyrical implications, an element still more evident in the second subject, introduced by the cellos and suggesting to some an American folk–song, much as the slow movement of the Fourth Piano Concerto had brought a less desirable resemblance. The motto theme, which has had its part to play in the development, returns to preface the recapitulation, with prominence now given to the second subject. The motto theme brings the movement to a close. In the second movement Rachmaninov follows the precedent of the concertos in which he had included a scherzo in the slow movement. The French horn introduces the motto theme, with the accompaniment of the harp, before the entry of a solo violin, to be joined by the other violins, as the thematic material is developed. A solo flute suggests a second subject and the movement moves on to the jaunty and emphatic rhythms of a colourful Allegro vivace, framed by a return of the original material of the movement. The symphony ends with a movement of some variety, opening with a flourish and containing concealed references to the Dies irae and a related fugal section. It is the Dies irae theme that starts the recapitulation and assumes further importance as the symphony draws to a brilliant and optimistic close.
About the Works
Symphonic Dances
(beginning of the 1st movement)
The Symphonic Dances were written towards the end of Rachmaninov’s career, in the autumn of 1940, after a summer spent at an estate on Long Island. He had the idea that they might be used for a new ballet by his friend Fokin, but the latter’s death in 1942 put an end to that. The three movements of the Symphonic Dances form in themselves what is virtually a symphony. The opening dance, which may remind us of elements in Prokofiev’s score for Romeo and Juliet, has an intense melody for alto saxophone in its central section, and includes a closing reference to the disastrous First Symphony. Rachmaninov had intended the first dance to represent Mid–day. The second was Twilight, and the third Midnight. Certainly Twilight brings its ghosts, figures in some haunted waltz, while Midnight struggles between Death, represented by the Dies irae of the Catholic sequence for the dead, and the triumphant Allelujah from the Russian liturgy, with which this, the composer’s last work, ends.
About the Artists
Leonard Slatkin
© Matthew H. Starling

Internationally renowned conductor Leonard Slatkin is currently Music Director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and of the Orchestre National de Lyon and Principal Guest Conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. He is also the author of a new book entitled Conducting Business. His previous positions have included a seventeen–year tenure with the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, a twelve–year tenure with the National Symphony as well as titled positions with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl, Philharmonia Orchestra of London, Nashville Symphony Orchestra and the New Orleans Philharmonic. Always committed to young people, Leonard Slatkin founded the National Conducting Institute and the Saint Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra and continues to work with student orchestras around the world. Born in Los Angeles, where his parents, conductor–violinist Felix Slatkin and cellist Eleanor Aller, were founding members of the Hollywood String Quartet, he began his musical studies on the violin and studied conducting with his father, followed by training with Walter Susskind at Aspen and Jean Morel at The Juilliard School. His more than 100 recordings have brought seven GRAMMY® Awards and 64 GRAMMY® Award nominations. He has received many other honours, including the 2003 National Medal of Arts, France's Chevalier of the Legion of Honour and the League of American Orchestras’ Gold Baton for service to American music.

About the Artists
Detroit Symphony Orchestra
© Victor Mangona

The internationally acclaimed Detroit Symphony Orchestra, which celebrated its 125th anniversary in December 2012, is known for trailblazing performances, visionary maestros, collaborations with the world’s foremost musical artists, and an unwavering commitment to Detroit. Esteemed conductor Leonard Slatkin, called "America’s Music Director" by the Los Angeles Times, became the twelfth Music Director of the DSO during the 2008–09 season and acclaimed conductor, arranger, and trumpeter Jeff Tyzik was appointed Principal Pops Conductor in November 2012. The DSO’s performance schedule includes Classical, Pops, Jazz, Young People’s, Neighborhood concerts, and collaborations with chart–topping musicians from Smokey Robinson to Kid Rock. A commitment to broadcast innovation began in 1922 when the DSO became the first orchestra in the world to present a radio broadcast and continues today with the free Live from Orchestra Hall webcast series. Making its home at historic Orchestra Hall at the Max M. Fisher Music Center, one of America’s most acoustically perfect concert halls, the DSO actively pursues a mission to impact and serve the community through music.

For more information visit or download the free DSO to Go mobile app.

Also Available
Sergey RACHMANINOV (1873–1943)
Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Op. 27
Vocalise, Op. 34, No. 14
Detroit Symphony Orchestra • Leonard Slatkin

In the wake of his First Symphony’s catastrophic première, Rachmaninov took a decade before commencing his Second, painstakingly revising it before conducting the triumphant première in 1908. Although haunted, like his First, by the Dies irae chant melody, the Second Symphony brims with Rachmaninov’s revitalised assurance as a composer, from its brooding opening to the vigorous grandeur of its conclusion. Eric Carmen borrowed the third movement’s poignant theme for his popular song Never Gonna Fall In Love Again, a tribute to the enduring power of Rachmaninov’s Romantic genius.

"a performance warmed by musicians who clearly love this symphony" – BBC Music Magazine

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