About this Recording

Summer Palaces of the Tsars
With music by Sergei Rachmaninov



RUSSIA Tsarskoye Selo: Palace of Catherine the Great

The great Catherine Palace at Tsarskoye Selo (Tsar’s Village) was designed by Rastrelli and built for the Tsarina Elisabeth, who named it after her mother, the second wife of Peter the Great. Constructed between 1742 and 1746, the palace was later altered under Catherine the Great through her architect and designer Charles Cameron, who adapted it to current neo-classical tastes. The building is seen first through the ornamental iron gates at the entrance to the park. Facing the palace, to the right are the onion domes of the Royal Chapel, while the Baroque façade is decorated with gilded figures of Atlas, and with elegant columns. Inside, the main entrance leads to the Great Hall, with its ceiling painting and gilded carvings. The Cavaliers’ Dining Room, in white and gold, has a table laid ready for the Tsarina’s gentlemen-in-waiting. Other rooms include the Green Dining Room, while the Amber Room has been the subject of recent restoration, after the loss of the greater part of the amber panels during the war. Tsarskoye Selo was renamed Pushkin during the Soviet period and there is statue of the poet in the palace grounds.

Music Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No 2 in C minor, Op 18 – I. Moderato

Rachmaninov wrote his Piano Concerto No 2 in C minor in 1900 and 1901, dedicating it to Dr Nikolay Dahl, who had used hypnotherapy to overcome the composer’s block from which Rachmaninov had suffered since the failure of his first symphony a few years before. The second and third movements of this most popular of all romantic concertos were completed in the summer of 1900 and the first movement in the following year. In November 1901 it was performed in Moscow under the direction of Ziloti, with the composer as soloist, and was received with the greatest enthusiasm. The work has retained its position in concert repertoire, although it has at the same time had a less fortunate influence on lesser works that have nothing of the innovative inspiration of their model. The first movement of the concerto opens with a series of dramatic chords from the soloist, an introduction to the first theme, proposed by the strings, accompanied by piano arpeggios. The second subject, quite properly in E flat major, is introduced by a phrase on the viola, before its statement by the soloist, rhapsodic in style, to be further developed in a central section, before a great dynamic climax and the return of the first subject, now marked Maestoso. Calm returns for the orchestra to return to the second subject, now with an air of intense nostalgia, before the final coda.


RUSSIA Suzdal: Kremlin

Suzdal lies to the north-east of Moscow, some sixty kilometres south of Ivanovo. In the 12th century it was the capital of the principality of Rostov-Suzdal and the town retains a wealth of buildings surviving from earlier periods of its history. The Kremlin (fortress) of Suzdal dates from the 11th century. Within its ramparts lies the Nativity of the Virgin Cathedral, with its blue onion domes decorated with gilded stars. The interior is rich in gilded ornament, with 13th century doors ornamented in damascene work with scenes from the gospels and of the angels. Suzdal has many other churches and monasteries that are of interest, including the Monastery of the Lament of Christ, with its reddish-coloured walls and the brilliant white of the Intercession Convent.

Music Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No 2 in C minor, Op 18 – II. Adagio sostenuto

In the slow movement the orchestra moves from C minor to the remoter key of E major, to be joined by the soloist in music of characteristic figuration, with the principal theme introduced by flute and clarinet, before being taken up by the soloist. There is a central section of greater animation and mounting tension, leading to a powerful cadenza, followed by the return of the principal theme.


RUSSIA Landscape between Moscow and St Petersburg
Memories of 1812

The snow-covered fields and roads running between lines of trees give a characteristic impression of Russia in winter, with mist rising from the thawing rivers and typical wooden houses, their roofs capped with snow. The icy landscape is a reminder itself of the part played by General January and General February, the Russian winter, in the defeat of Napoleon in 1812, when a scorched earth policy lured the French armies, after the battle of Borodino, to a deserted Moscow and then to ignominious and costly retreat.

Music Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No 2 in C minor, Op 18 – III. Allegro scherzando

With scarcely a pause the orchestra embarks on the final Allegro scherzando, providing the necessary modulation to the original key. A piano cadenza leads to the first theme, while a second theme, marked Moderato, is announced by the oboe and violas. Both are treated rhapsodically by the soloist, the second theme offering a romantic contrast to the more energetic rhythm of the first. In form the movement is a rondo, with the first theme largely keeping its original key and the second providing harmonic variety in different keys, the first making its second appearance in contrapuntal imitation. The concerto ends with a grandiose apotheosis of the second theme in a triumphant C major.


UKRAINE Crimea: Ai-Petri Mountains • Simeiz: Black Sea Coast • Foros: Baydary Church • Swallow’s Nest (Lastochkino Gnezdo) • Yalta: White Livadia Palace and Nikolay Church • Yalta: Anton Chekhov House and Museum • Gurzuf: Chekhova House

The Crimea has, over the centuries, been occupied by various races, from the early Greek colonists and the Scythians, to Romans, Italians and Tatars. The crags of the Ai-Petri Mountains and the rocky shore of the Black Sea, give way to the little resort of Simeiz. The romantic folly, the Swallow’s Nest, was built in 1912 on a cliff-top at Cape Ai-Todor, to the west of Yalta. Similarly spectacular in its placing is the Baydary Church, built on a crag in the 19th century by a rich merchant in thanks for the deliverance of his daughter, who was in danger of death there with a runaway horse. The White Livadia Palace was built in 1911 for Tsar Nicholas II, largely in Italian style. It was the site of the Yalta meeting between the allied powers in 1945. Anton Chekhov’s association with Yalta and with Gurzuf is attested by the houses that he occupied there and by the memorial museum in the first, where a number of his belongings are preserved in their domestic setting.

Music Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No 3 in D minor, Op 30 – I. Allegro ma non tanto

Rachmaninov gave the first performance of his technically demanding Piano Concerto No 3 in D minor in New York on 28 November 1909, having apparently practised the solo part during the sea-crossing to America on a dummy keyboard. He had written the work at Ivanovka during the summer and towards the end of his life refused to play the work, which he preferred to entrust to the younger pianists Vladimir Horowitz and Walter Gieseking, surprising diffidence in a player of his distinction. The first performance under Damrosch was followed by a Carnegie Hall performance in January 1910, under Gustav Mahler, to be greeted with critical reservations about its length and excessive difficulties. The composer has left an account of the rehearsal with Mahler, who spared the orchestra nothing in his preparation of the work. The rehearsal was called for ten o’clock, with Rachmaninov, as soloist, asked to attend an hour later. Work on the concerto did not start until midday, leaving only half an hour more available. Mahler, however, continued a further three quarters of an hour, before announcing that they would now play again the first movement. It was after an hour and a half of extra rehearsal time that Mahler finished, even then insisting that no player should leave so long as he was on the podium. Rachmaninov recalls with respect Mahler’s necessary strictness of discipline and his dedication and care. The principal theme of the first movement is announced at the beginning by the soloist with great simplicity, over a gentle orchestral accompaniment, a melody which one writer has traced to the Russian Orthodox liturgy. This opening theme is of considerable importance, since much that follows is derived from it, in one way or another. There is an expressive second subject, derived from a rhythmic figure heard in the preceding transition and heard as various instruments join in duet with the soloist. The first subject provides the basis of the central development. There is an extended cadenza, for the first part of which the composer offered a marginally simpler and shorter version. This is interrupted by a woodwind return to the first subject, to continue, finally followed by a much abbreviated recapitulation.


RUSSIA Pavlovsk: Summer Palace of Tsar Paul I
Petrodvorets: Summer Palace and Garden of Tsar Peter the Great

In 1777 Catherine the Great gave her son, the Archduke Paul, land at Pavlovsk, to celebrate the birth of his son and heir. The designs, carried out under the Archduke’s widow, were by Charles Cameron and include a park with various pavilions and temples and an impressive Palladian villa, which forms the centre of the later palace, extended by the addition of further buildings each side to form an incomplete circle. Much of the extended building owes its magnificence to the attention given to it by the widowed Maria Fyodorovna, born Sophia of Württemberg-Stuttgart. Peter the Great had more modest tastes and his original development of Petrodvorets, near St Petersburg, was relatively modest compared with the form the palace later took under the Tsarina Elisabeth and Catherine the Great, with the embellishments introduced by Bartolomeo Rastrelli. The gardens retain remarkable water devices, fountains and waterfalls, while the interior of the palace includes fine state rooms. One of the rooms contains 360 portraits of eight girls, painted by Pietro Rotari and sold by his widow to Catherine the Great.

Music Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No 3 in D minor, Op 30 – II. Intermezzo: Adagio – III. Finale: Alla breve

The Intermezzo, marked Adagio, opens in A major with thematic material that bears a strong enough resemblance to an element of the principal theme of the first movement. The soloist makes more of this and at the centre of the movement, in a section in the mood of a scherzo, provides an accompaniment to the first-movement theme with changed note values, now allotted to clarinet and bassoon. There is a cadenza, before the movement moves forward without a break to the virtuoso Finale. Here the overall unity of the work is further ensured by the reference, before the recapitulation, to the two first-movement themes and a later reminiscence of the rhythm with which the concerto had opened, implicit, in any case, in the first theme of the movement. Other thematic material is introduced at the outset, the first of four themes to be introduced rhythmically derived from the principal theme of the first movement and leading to a brusquely ascending figure, to massive syncopated chords and to a romantic fourth element, the second subject proper. The development of the material offers further opportunities for great virtuosity and, as in the other movements, there is a cadenza, after the return of the four thematic elements in recapitulation, and a final coda that sets the seal on a romantic virtuoso concerto that takes the form to its peak.

Keith Anderson


Piano Concerto No 2: Jeno Jandó, piano, Budapest Symphony Orchestra
cond. György Lehel [Naxos 8.550117]

Piano Concerto No 3: Bernd Glemser, piano, National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland
cond. Jerzy Maksymiuk [Naxos 8.550666]

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