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Sergei Rachmaninov

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 Piano Concerto no. 2 in C minor op. 18 was dedicated to Dr. Nikolay Dahl who helped Rachmaninov to regain his confidence after the severe criticism given to his first symphony at itís premier in 1897. He fell into deep depression and stopped composing until the spring of 1900, when his aunt suggested he saw Dr. Dahl. Soon after, he was composing again with such self-confidence that in August he completed the second and third movements of the piano concerto. Later that year, after the premier in Moscow, without the first movement, it received high acclaim from the critics.  Spurred on, Rachmaninov completed the first movement in the spring of 1901, and the premier of the complete concerto in Moscow on the 9 November 1901, was a great success.

The First Movement Moderato begins with the piano in a sombre mood making chords similar to the chiming of a church bell and then expanding as if opening up to the great, vast, open spaces of Russia. As the melody unfolds, the dark clouds are brewing on the horizon. For a moment the melody brightens as if the sun shines through, with a beautiful piano solo, only to be brought to a brooding and stormy end by the strings and the piano.

The Second Movement Adagio sostenuto, as with the aftermath of a storm, the melancholy melody of the piano, followed by the clarinet and flute, echo the solitude and gentle awakening of the landscape.  The tempo increases with the piano cadenza, but returns to a soft calm with the whispering strings, and a beautiful, warm piano solo ends the movement.

The Third Movement Allegro Scherzando begins with the strings making a dramatic introduction. The piano makes a thrilling but brief solo and eventually fades to unnerving stillness. A fantastic climax is reached when the piano and the whole orchestra return with the wonderful melody bringing everyone to their feet rejoicing in the rapturous conclusion.

Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43, composed in 1934, was inspired by the theme used by Paganini as the basis for a set of solo violin variations forming the last of Paganiniís 24 Caprices. The Paganini theme led Rachmaninov to use the sequence of another complimentary theme that formed part of the Latin Requiem Mass, the Dies irae. Rachmaninov had used this second melody in The Isle of the Dead and it also appeared in his last work, the Symphonic Dances.

Although the Rhapsody seems in its original form not to have had programmatic significance, the composer provided a narrative explanation for Fokinís ballet Paganini. The choreographic version of the legend has the great violinist selling his soul to the devil in return for perfection as a violinist and for the love of a woman. The Dies irae supposedly represents the devil and the original theme is Paganini himself. Without doubt, the variations that make up the Rhapsody include episodes of lyrical tenderness that form the romantic middle section followed by the overwhelming devilishness of the last six of the 24 variations.


Sergei Rachmaninov (1873 - 1943)



 Piano Concerto no. 2 in C minor op. 18 
Adagio sustenuto 
Allegro scherzando

Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini Op.43
Theme & Variations



Total playing time 58:19

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      Free MP3 sample from  Piano Concerto No. 2, track no. 3

Elena Caldine, Piano Forte
   Russian Philharmonic Orchestra
   Dmitry Yablonsky, Conductor

DDD Digital Recording. Moscow Radio Studio Five,  1/2006
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