By Gary Barton
It is nothing short of astonishing that two 20th century Russian composer/pianists could have so much in common yet have produced music so completely different. The two shared the same given name; their lives overlapped by 52 years; they attended the Moscow Conservatory and even had some of the same teachers; each had a comfortable childhood, at least economically, and came from a family with a notable musical background; and both were musical prodigies. Each man earned international fame and fortune, toured widely as a performer and spent parts of his life in America. Yet their paths diverged so extremely that their music seems to come from entirely different periods of musical history. One was by nature solemn and introverted while the other was ebullient and mercurial. One wore muted colors but the other once appeared on Red Square wearing black and white checkered trousers and a bright yellow sportcoat. Each was an expatriate, but one returned to his homeland for his last days. Both shared the same passion, automobiles.
Sergei Rachmaninoff was born nearly two decades before Sergei Prokofiev, in 1873. He was until his dying day a composer in the 19th century Romantic tradition; his music continues from where Tchaikovsky left off. He met Tchaikovsky while a student. The elder man openly expressed his admiration for Rachmaninoff's early compositions. Sergei Prokofiev, discussed in another article in this series, took off headlong on his own. He was, in fact, referred to in his student days as a "futurist" and he wrote music that was baffling to much of the public.
Prokofiev had a caustic and sarcastic wit and has been psychologically described as "obsessive compulsive." Rachmaninoff suffered a far more severe and debilitating mental disorder. In Touched With Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament, published by Simon & Schuster, author and world recognized authority Kay Redfield Jamison includes Rachmaninoff in Appendix B, "Writers, Artists, and Composers With Probable Cyclothymia, Major Depression, Or Manic Depressive Illness" along with, (did you guess?) Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky!
As one of the most distinguished students in the history of the Moscow Conservatory, Rachmaninoff graduated at the top of his class, even though he finished the 4-year program in only 3 years. His skill as a pianist was recognized; he'd written an opera (Aleko was composed in a month), some songs and his first piano concerto; and he won the school's highest honor, something like "the gold medal of all gold medals." Alexander Siloti was his keyboard instructor, who in turn had been a favorite pupil of Franz Liszt. Rachmaninoff's name was quite literally carved into the marble tablet of the Moscow Conservatory. At 19, this genius wrote a piece called Prelude in c-sharp minor, a double-edged sword that would not only pave the way for a brilliant future but also haunt him and dog at his heels for the rest of his life.
Then the tide began to turn. A performance of the first movement of his Piano Concerto No. 1 met with mixed response. His Symphony No. 1 was performed in St. Petersburg, not the congenial Moscow. It was not successful and the reviewers were merciless. Rachmaninoff withdrew both pieces and fell into a deep depression. He never returned to the symphony and by some accounts went so far as to destroy the score. The concerto lay dormant until he revised it extensively in 1917.
Rachmaninoff's lifelong love of plainchant and his obsession with the Dies Irae (Day of Reckoning) are already apparent as quotations in each movement of the Symphony No. 1. The broadly negative critical response to this work could therefore have been a double blow of fate, all the more reason to cause Rachmaninoff to give up composing (he still continued to concertize) for three years. It was only through working with a neurologist who used hypnosis and auto-suggestion to help him out of his deep depression (he kept repeating to the composer, "You will write your concerto - You will write your concerto - You will work with great facility - Your concerto will be of excellent quality…"), curb his excessive consumption of alcohol and get back to pen and paper that Rachmaninoff regained his compositional impulse. The result was the Piano Concerto No. 2, which Rachmaninoff dedicated to Doctor Dahl, who had treated Rachmaninoff without charge. Rachmaninoff nonetheless suffered recurrent bouts with severe depression for the rest of his life.
By 1900, Rachmaninoff was back on track with the success of this second piano concerto. He moved to a small estate on Lake Lucerne in Switzerland after marrying his cousin Natalya Satina. A few years later, he toured the United States for the first time, gaining much fame and popularity and taking with him Piano Concerto No. 3. Delighted with his success, he accumulated enough money to buy an automobile. He was intrigued by the novelty of this new invention and loved to drive around the countryside.
Following the Revolution in 1917, Rachmaninoff left Russia permanently, moving eventually to New York in 1935. He was twice offered the position of conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, but refused. Much of his later years were taken up with performances. As well as being an outstanding composer, Sergei Rachmaninoff was one of the most outstanding pianists of his age. He was able to memorize long and demanding pieces almost at once, his tone was incredibly warm and appealing and he brought clarity to the most complicated works. His reach was very large: his left hand could span a twelfth.
Sergei Rachmaninoff died in Beverly Hills on March 28, 1943, shortly after having become an American citizen.
Sergie Rachmaninov 1873-1943 俄国病态美的钢琴家兼作曲家
1873 年 4 月 1 日出生於赛姆约诺夫，当 时俄国正是沙皇统治最腐败的时期，社会瀰漫著一股颓废、反抗和革命交织而成的气氛。 拉赫曼尼诺夫出身名门，家族是俄罗斯贵族，父亲担任皇家禁卫队队长，拥有分封领土，然因父亲不断挥霍，加上共产主义兴起农奴获得解放，家族遂逐渐没落。父母亲对拉赫曼尼诺夫未来发展的歧见 ── 父亲希望他成为有前途的军人；母亲却发现他的音乐才能而欲予以完整的音乐教育 ── 更造成了家庭失和，父母离异。 拉赫曼尼诺夫随母亲度过童年，也由母亲完成了音乐的啟蒙教育；之后的家庭教师安娜·欧娜塔斯凯亚 (Anna Ornatskaya) 则担任了他九岁以前的音乐教育工作。 1882年，在安娜的协助下，拉赫曼尼诺夫获得圣彼得堡音乐院奖学金； 9 岁时母亲吕波芙 . 布塔柯娃 ( Lyubov Butakova ) 带著他离开父亲，迁往圣彼得堡。年幼的他在这个寒冷的俄罗斯西北城市，正式开始了音乐家生涯。
之后进入圣彼得堡音乐院就读， 在圣彼得堡音乐院中，拉赫曼尼诺夫跟随古斯塔夫·葛罗斯（Gustav Kross）习琴。在音乐院里他天生的音乐才能使他都能轻易的通过考试， 可是一般科目几乎使他被退学。生性沉默内向的小拉赫，并没有在新环境中适应得很好，1885年的考试，使他遭到了留级一年的厄运。 在姑姑的儿子建议下，拉赫曼尼诺夫被转往莫斯科接受名师尼可拉·兹威列夫（Nikolay Zverev）指导钢琴。 此时大他一岁的史克里亚宾（Alexander Scriabin）亦受教於兹威列夫门下。
You can see the track listing above, so you can decide for yourself if what you want it on it. I bought it mainly for the second piano concerto so I'll only review that part thoroughly.
I spent a while looking for a good Rachmaninov CD. My main objective was to find a nice version of Piano Concerto No. 2, and I can safely say mission accomplished.
Vladimir Ashkenazy does a good job with the solo piano and it moves at a pace to which I am accustomed. (Is it wrong to not like the composer's intentions? ) I actually prefer a performance with the London Philharmonic from the 70s slightly more than this, but all the recordings of that have a prominent hiss.
That brings me to the audio quality. Its Much better than most Rachmaninoff CDs I have found, as it has been digitally remastered. But I was a little dissapointed when playing it on my dad's audio-phile surround sound system. I felt like I was being fed the music in one lump instead of a weave of the different tones and timbres. But that's no reason not to buy it; it still sounds great on my stereo, my car stereo, and my computer speakers (I have good computer speakers) I may have been expecting too much from my dad's audio system.
In conclusion, this two disc set has nearly everything else you would want from Rachmaninoff. (They don't call it essential for nothing) There is no background hiss or hum, and the choice of performances is excellent.
01. Vladimir Ashkenazy(piano), Bernard Haitink, Concertgebouw Orchestra / Piano Concerto No.2 in C minor, Op.18: I.Moderato 11:36
02. Vladimir Ashkenazy(piano), Bernard Haitink, Concertgebouw Orchestra / Piano Concerto No.2 in C minor, Op.18: II.Adagio sostenuto 11:28
03. Vladimir Ashkenazy(piano), Bernard Haitink, Concertgebouw Orchestra / Piano Concerto No.2 in C minor, Op.18: III.Allegro scherzando 11:16
04. Renee Fleming(soprano), English Chamber Orchestra, Jeffrey Tate / Vocalise, Op.34-14 (transcr. Braden) 05:38
05. Vladimir Ashkenazy / Prelude in C-sharp minor, Op.3-2 04:32
06. Vladimir Ashkenazy, Andre Previn / Suite No.1 for Two Pianos, Op.5: IV.Paques : Allegro maestoso 02:28
07. Kirov Orchestra, Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg, Valery Gergiev / Symphony No.2 in E minor, Op.27: III.Adagio 13:07
08. Vladimir Ashkenazy(piano), Bernard Haitink, Concertgebouw Orchestra / Piano Concerto No.4 in G minor, Op.40: II.Largo 07:38
09. Vladimir Ashkenazy, Concertgebouw Orchestra / Symphonic Dances, Op.45: I.Non allegro 11:21
01. Zoltan Kocsis (piano), Edo de Waart, San Francisco Symphony / Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (Introduction and 24 Variations), in A minor, Op.43 22:30
02. Vladimir Ashkenazy(piano), Anatole Fistoulari, London Symphony Orchestra / Piano Concerto No.3 in D minor, Op.30: I.Allegro ma non tanto 16:44
03. Concertgebouw Orchestra, Vladimir Ashkenazy / Symphony No.3 in A minor, Op.44: II.Adagio ma non troppo - Allegro vivace 12:33
04. Vladimir Mostovoy(tenor), St Petersburg Chamber Choir, Nikolai Korniev / Vespers (All-night Vigil), Op.37: Nyne Otpushchayeshi (Kievian Melody) 03:45
05. Rafael Orozco / Prelude in G minor, Op.23-5 03:26
06. Julian Lloyd Webber(cello), John Lenehan(piano) / Romance in F minor (arr. Lloyd webber) 02:06
07. Sergei Rachmaninov(piano) / Liebesfreud (Kreisler, arr. Rachmaninov) 05:46
08. Concertgebouw Orchestra, Vladimir Ashkenazy / Symphony No.1 in D minor, Op.13: IV.Allegro con fuoco 12:39