Wednesday, 11 November 2009
Moments of Magic Number 3
'Larghetto' from Symphony No. 1 by S. Rachmaninov
One of my favourite composers, Sergei Rachmaninov was one of the greatest musicians of the 19th and 20th centuries. A virtuoso pianist with enormous hands, the aristocratic and rather diffident Russian is probably most famous for his Second and Third piano concerti; less vaunted are his symphonic works.
Indeed, this 'moment of magic' is actually from a piece that Rachmaninov effectively disowned due to a disastrous premiere and savage critique, courtesy of Cesar Cui. Apparently, the conductor was drunk and stumbled clumsily through this work, his Symphony No.1, which resulted in Rachmaninov leaving the performance before the close and descending into a deep depression that was to prove to be a creative prelude of titanic importance. He stopped writing for years, but when he finally composed again he produced one of the greatest piano concertos in the history of music: his Piano Concerto No. 2
This sequence is from the 'Larghetto', the slow, beautiful poem sequence of the symphony. I love the elegance and tenderness of this passage. It evokes a hazy, dreamlike recreation of an impossibly idealistic past. Rachmaninov, ever the nostalgic, was often dreaming of a 'finer' time. His era was tainted with civil unrest, revolution and war; shadows which he turned from as he dreamed of the past and perfect summer days on his family's estate. Nothing is more romantic than Rachmaninov. This sequence reveals his mighty talent; some of it is reminiscent of a Borodin nocturne and it certainly has a little dash of Tchaikovsky's ponderous majesty but the feeling generated by this Rachmaninov melody is unique. That there should be such depth of feeling, such strength of imagination, such wonder in the mind of a 24 year old man is incredible. This is classic Russian romance; effortlessly beautiful.