About this Recording
8.550272 - RACHMANINOV: Symphony No. 2 / The Rock, Op. 7

Sergey Rachmaninov (1873 - 1943)

Symphony No.2 in E minor Opus 27
The Rock, fantasy for orchestra Opus 7

For much of his life, once he had left Russia, Sergey Rachmaninov earned a living for himself and his family on the concert platform, sometimes as a conductor but principally as a pianist, one of the most distinguished of his generation. At home he had seemed about to embark on a rather different career. Born in 1873 into a family of some distinction, he was allowed, partly through the improvidence of his father, who had been compelled to sell much of the family property, to study music. He entered the St. Petersburg Conservatory in 1882, but, making no progress in general studies, was moved in 1885 to Moscow, where he lodged with a strict teacher, Zverev, before becoming a student of Ziloti at the Moscow Conservatory and taking lessons from Taneyev and from Arensky. At the age of eighteen he completed his studies at the Conservatory as a pianist and the following year graduated from the composition class.

In the 1890s Rachmaninov was busy as a composer, achieving embarrassing popular success with his Prelude in C sharp minor and a succès d'estime, at least, with his opera Aleko, which impressed Tchaikovsky. His First Symphony, however, written in 1895, was given a disastrous first performance under Glazunov, allegedly the worse for drink at the time, and this failure discouraged him immediately from further composition. He was able, however, to widen his experience as a conductor with the Mamontov Opera Company. Psychiatric treatment restored something of his confidence, resulting in the famous Second Piano Concerto in 1901. His career continued thereafter with a contract as a conductor at the Bolshoi in Moscow in 1904 and two more operas, followed by resignation from the state theatre in 1906, in the aftermath of the political troubles of the previous year, a respite abroad and a subsequent return to the privacy of the family estates at Ivanovka. Continued political turmoil in Russia led him then to move to Dresden, where he began work on his Second Symphony, returning from time to time to Ivanovka.

What might have been a productive career as a composer, conductor and concert pianist, with increasing international engagements, was interrupted by the disturbances of 1917 and the revolution, after which the family estate at Ivanovka was seized by the Communist authorities. Rachmaninov, with his wife and children, left Russia two months after the October Revolution, never to return. From this time on he was obliged to make principal use of his astonishing musical and technical abilities as a pianist, settling first in Copenhagen and then in the United States of America, a country he found at first uncongenial, if lucrative. He toured in defatigably during the next ten years, travelling regularly to Europe, par1icularly to Dresden and Paris. Performances in America were counterbalanced, as always, by periods of relative relaxation spent in Europe, from 1930 par1icularly at the family's new villa near Lucerne in Switzerland. Concert tours continued until his death at his home in Beverly Hills in 1943, after the abandonment of w hat was, in any case, to have been his final tour.

Rachmaninov completed his Second Symphony in 1907 and it was given its first performance the following year in St. Petersburg under the direction of the composer. An expansive work firmly in the late Romantic tradition, the symphony continues also a particularly Russian vein of Romanticism, explored already by Tchaikovsky. It opens with a motto theme, elements of which re- appear throughout the work. The theme is expanded and developed at length and a second impor1ant theme of overwhelmingly strong feeling, continuing in an orchestral texture of constant richness and variety. The second movement Scherzo is a lively movement of the greatest energy, a necessary contrast to the intensity of w hat has gone before, to the mood of which it returns in the sensuous central section. The movement ends with mysterious simplicity, after music of considerable excitement, through which suggestions of the composer's idée fixe, the Dies irae of the Latin Requiem, can occasionally be detected.

The slow movement of the symphony, strongly Romantic in tone, is dominated by its principal theme, proposed briefly, before the clarinet announces the long-drawn melody from which it is to be derived at greater length. The symphony ends with a movement marked Allegro vivace, which initially dispels the intense feelings of w hat had immediately preceded it, although here too there are echoes of much that has passed, both in direct thematic reference to the earlier movements and in episodes of similar intensity to that predominating in the first and third movements of a symphony of particular opulence. The work provides a vindication of Rachmaninov's reputation after the failure of his First Symphony ten years earlier, and otters a companion to the Second Piano Concerto in conception.

The fantasy for orchestra, The Rock, Opus 7, was written in 1893 and is based on a short story by Chekhov, although bearing a quotation from a poem of the same name by Lermontov at the head of the score: A little cloud slept on the bosom of the giant rock. Chekhov's melancholy tale, Na puti (On the Road), tells of a chance meeting between a girl and an older man, who has wasted his years and tells her of his past, before they part. There is a pictorial suggestion that the lower instruments represent the man and the higher the girl in music that has its chief interest in its occasional intimations of what Rakhmaninov was later to achieve in his maturer orchestral writing.

Czechoslovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava)
The Czechoslovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava), the oldest symphonic ensemble in Slovakia, was founded in 1929 at the instance of Milos Ruppeldt and Oskar Nedbal, prominent personalities in the sphere of music. The orchestra was first conducted by the Prague conductor František Dyk and in the course of the past fifty years of its existence has worked under the batons of several prominent Czech and Slovak conductors. Ondrej Lenard was appointed its conductor in 1970 and in 1977 its conductor-in-chief. The orchestra has given many successful concerts both at home and abroad, in West and East Germany, Russia, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Spain, Italy, and Great Britain. It records extensively for the Naxos and Marco Polo labels.

Stephen Gunzenhauser
The American conductor Stephen Gunzenhauser was educated in New York, continuing his studies at Oberlin, at the Salzburg Mozarteum, at the New England Conservatory and at Cologne State Conservatory. His period at the last of these was the result of a Fulbright Scholarship, followed by an award from the West German Government and a first prize in the conducting competition held in the Spanish town of Santiago. During the last two decades, Gunzenhauser has enjoyed a varied and distinguished career, winning popularity in particular for his work with the Delaware Symphony.

For the Marco Polo label Stephen Gunzenhauser has recorded works by Bloch, Lachner, Taneyev, Liadov, Gliere and Rubinstein, and for NAXOS Tchaikovsky's Symphony No.5, Beethoven Overtures, the Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony, Orff's Carmina Burana and the symphonies of Borodin. He is currently engaged in recording all the symphonies and symphonic poems of Dvorak, also for NAXOS.

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