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Chill with Rachmaninov

Chill with Rachmaninov


Sergey Vasilyevich Rachmaninov (1873-1943)


Sergey Vasilyevich Rachmaninov was born at Semyonovo, Russia in 1873, the son of aristocratic parents. However, his father’s extravagant lifestyle depleted the family’s fortunes to the extent that they were forced to sell off most of their estate and move to St Petersburg by the time Rachmaninov was nine. It was in this city that he entered the Conservatory on a scholarship.


The subsequent separation of his parents and failure in general subject examinations brought about Rachmaninov’s move to the Moscow Conservatory, where he was under the strict supervision of Nikolay Zverev, under whom he developed much of his phenomenal talent as a pianist.


In 1891 Rachmaninov completed his piano studies at the Conservatory and graduated the following year from his composition class. In the immediately ensuing years he enjoyed success as a composer but this was halted by the failure of his Symphony No. 1 at its début performance in 1897. Unfortunately, it was conducted badly by Glazunov, apparently drunk at the time, and then reviewed in hostile terms by César Cui. This severely knocked Rachmaninov’s confidence and was a major cause of his depression. He was only able to return to composing after a course of treatment with Dr Nikolay Dahl, a believer in the efficacy of hypnotism. The immediate result was the second of his four piano concertos, a work which has proved to be one of the most immediately popular of all he wrote.


Rachmaninov married Natalya Satina in 1902 and the years leading up to the Russian revolution saw him acquiring international fame due to his continued successful activity as a composer and writer.


The Communist Revolution of 1917 brought many changes. While some musicians remained in Russia, others, like Rachmaninov, chose temporary or permanent exile.  Such estrangement forced him to concentrate mainly on performance and as one of the most distinguished pianists of the day, he was able to support his family but found himself with little time left for composition. He undertook demanding concert tours, dazzling audiences all over the globe, but eventually settled in the United States. Rachmaninov died in Beverly Hills in 1943.





Track 1 – Vocalise in E minor, Op.34 No. 14 (Cello and Orchestra)

Track 12 – Vocalise in E minor, Op.34 No. 14 (Cello and Piano)


Rachmaninov’s Vocalise has a powerful attraction all of its own, in whatever arrangement it might appear. As the title proclaims, it is a wordless song with a startlingly simple crystalline motif. Rachmaninov wrote it for the coloratura soprano Antonia Nezhdanova, whose voice was supposedly so beautiful that any lyrics would be unnecessary. The melody is instantly memorable and beautifully seamless.



Track 2 – Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op.18: Adagio Sostenuto


Rachmaninov wrote his second concerto in 1900 and 1901 and dedicated it to Dr Nikolay Dahl, under whom he had undergone psychiatric treatment that restored his creative urge. The concerto was met with great enthusiasm when it premièred in Moscow in November 1901 with Rachmaninov as the soloist.


In this slow second movement the orchestra moves gently from the key of C minor to the remote key of E major, in which the soloist enters. The principal theme is introduced by flute and clarinet, before being taken up by the soloist. The more rapid central section of the movement suggests the mood of scherzo, leading to a powerful cadenza.


            If you would like to hear the whole of the Piano Concerto in C minor then try:

            8.550117      Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 2 (coupled with Rhapsody on a

                                    theme of Paganini)

                                    Jenö Jandó (Piano)

                                    Budapest Symphony Orchestra, György Lehel

            8.550810       Piano Concertos Nos. 2 & 3

                                    Bernd Glemser (Piano)

                                    Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, Antoni Wit



Track 3 – Mélodie in E


Originally for piano, and premièred by the composer at a concert in Kharkov on 28th December 1892, Mélodie comes from a collection of Morceaux de Fantaisie better known for the C sharp minor Prelude (No. 2). It is notable chiefly for its melodic content, as its title suggests.



Track 4 –  Morceaux de salon, Op.10: I  Nocturne in A minor

Track 5 –  Morceaux de salon, Op.10: III  Barcarolle in G minor


Rachmaninov completed his set of seven Morceaux de salon in early 1984, two years after he had finished his studies as a pianist at the Conservatory and one year after his graduation from composition class. The first of the salon pieces is effective in its mood of melancholy, established in alternating chords while the third is dominated by its opening melody and shifting harmonic accompaniment.


            Further examples of Rachmaninov’s Morceaux de salon can be heard on:

            8.553004       Morceaux de salon / Three Nocturnes / Four Pieces

                                    Idil Biret (Piano)



Track 6 – Sonata in G minor for Cello and Piano, Op.19: Andante


While a number of Rachmaninov’s solo piano compositions have been transcribed by others for cello and piano, he himself only wrote seven works for this combination of instruments. The 1901 Sonata was dedicated to the renowned cellist Anatoli Brandukov and premièred by him, with Rachmaninov himself at the piano. It comprises four movements but here only the enrapturing Andante is featured; a slow lyrical poem, full of yearning and nostalgia – probably the most romantic cello and piano duo ever written.


            Further examples of Rachmaninov’s works for cello and piano can be heard on:

            8.550987       Complete works for Cello and Piano

                                    Michael Grebanier (Cello)

                                    Janet Guggenheim (Piano)



Track 7 – Symphony No. 1 in D minor, Op.13: Larghetto


Rachmaninov wrote his Symphony No. 1 in D minor, his second attempt at the form, in 1895. Belyayev arranged for it to be heard at a Russian Symphony concert in St Petersburg in 1897, where it received a largely hostile reception. Rachmaninov found the experience humiliating, presuming that a better performance might have earned the work more favour. He withdrew it immediately and the work was not performed again in his lifetime. The score was lost, but in 1945 was reconstructed from surviving orchestral parts.


            If you would like to hear Rachmaninov’s Symphony No.1 in D minor in its entirety then try:

            8.550806       Symphony No. 1 in D minor (coupled with Caprice Bohémien)

                                    National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland

                                    Alexander Anissimov 



Track 8-10 – Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op.43: Variations 16-18


The Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini was written in the space of a few weeks in 1934 and is based on the theme used by Paganini as the basis of a set of solo violin variations that form the last of his 24 Caprices. To Rachmaninov the Paganini theme was a musical allusion to death, reminiscent of the melody that once formed part of the Latin Requiem Mass, the Dies irae.


The variations that make up the Rhapsody include episodes of lyrical tenderness, forming a central section of romantic intensity (featured here), followed by the brilliant virtuosity of the last six of the twenty-four variations.


            If you would like to hear the whole of the Rhapsody then try:

            8.550809       Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (coupled with Piano Concertos

                                    Nos. 1 & 4)

                                    Bernd Glemser (Piano)

                                    Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, Antoni Wit 

            8.550117       Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (coupled with Piano Concerto in C


                                    Jenö Jandó (Piano)

                                    Budapest Symphony Orchestra, György Lehel



Track 11 – Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Op. 27: Adagio


This work was completed in January 1908 and was performed successfully in St Petersburg under the composer’s direction at the end of the same month, as part of a concert season under Ziloti. The symphony was dedicated to Sergey Taneyev, one of Rachmaninov’s teachers at the Moscow Conservatory.


With its soaring melodic lines and climactic crescendos, the third movement is the epitome of romantic longing.


            If you would like to hear the whole of Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 2 then try:

            8.554230       Symphony No. 2

                                    National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, Alexander Anissimov

            8.505177       Complete Symphonies and Concertos

                                    National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, Alexander Anissimov

                                    Bernd Glemser (Piano)

                                    Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, Antoni Wit


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