Showcase Sommerfest 2014 - page 22

n October 1906 Rachmaninoff moved from Moscow
to Dresden with his wife and their daughter, Irina,
aiming to take himself out of circulation. He was a
busy pianist and conductor—he had just concluded
two years as principal conductor at the Bolshoi Opera—
and he longed for time just to write. But as offers to
play and conduct kept coming in, he decided to accept
an invitation to visit the United States. It was for this
tour that he wrote his Third Piano Concerto, and on
November 28, 1909, he introduced it with Walter
Damrosch and the New York Symphony. Soon after
he played it again, and to his much greater satisfaction,
with the New York Philharmonic under Gustav Mahler,
another conductor struggling to find time to compose.
allegro ma non tanto.
Rachmaninoff invented arresting
beginnings for all his works for piano and orchestra.
In the first measure of the Third Concerto we find a
quality we do not usually associate with Rachmaninoff:
simplicity. For two measures, clarinet, bassoon, horn,
timpani and muted strings set up a pulse against which
the piano sings—or is it speaks?—a long and quiet
melody, the two hands in octaves as in a Schubert piano
duet. It is a lovely inspiration, that melody unfolding
in subtle variation, just a few notes being continually
redisposed rhythmically. Once only, to the extent of a
single eighth note, does melody exceed the range of an
octave; most of it stays within a fifth.
The accompaniment cost Rachmaninoff considerable
trouble. He was thinking, he said, of the piano singing
the melody “as a singer would sing it, and [finding]
a suitable orchestral accompaniment, or rather, one
that would not muffle this singing.” What he found
invites, for precision and delicacy, comparison
with the workmanship in Mozart’s concertos. The
Sergei Rachmaninoff
April 1, 1873, Semyonovo, district of Starorusky, Russia
March 28, 1943, Beverly Hills, California
Concerto No. 3 in D minor for Piano and
Orchestra, Opus 30
Rachmaninoff and Brahms
july 10, 11
Dmitri Kabalevsky
December 30, 1904, St. Petersburg
February 14, 1987, Moscow
Overture to
Colas Breugnon
, Opus 24
he French writer and musicologist Romain Rolland
(1866-1944) was an early admirer of Stalin, and
in 1919 he wrote a short, lively novel with the
theme of revolt against entrenched authority. In
Colas Breugnon: Master of Clamecy
, the title character,
a woodcarver and sculptor in 16th-century Burgundy,
offers jovial reminiscences about his loves, his adventures
and his struggles against the plague and political tyranny.
In his final triumph over the evil duke, he unveils a
statue of the ruler sitting—majestically—backwards on a
donkey, to the derision of the local citizenry.
Colas Breugnon
became so popular in Soviet Russia that
it reportedly went through 120 editions. The composer
Dmitri Kabalevsky also took note, and with Rolland’s
permission, Kabalevsky and his librettist V.G. Bragin
created an opera based on the novel. Kabalevsky began
work in 1936, and the opera was first produced in
Leningrad on February 22, 1938. But the composer was
not satisfied with the original version, and 30 years later,
in 1968, he completed a revision.
One part of
Colas Breugnon
that has always been
popular is its brief overture, notable for its high spirits
and fizzing energy; today it is heard in the concert
hall more often than in the opera house. It bursts to
life with a noisy flourish full of the glittering sound of
xylophone and promptly takes off on one of those typical
Kabalevsky themes that flicker between major and minor
keys. A variety of tunes follows, most notably a broadly-
singing theme for violins. But the music overflows with
ideas and rhythmic energy, and finally it races to an
ending well suited to wake up an audience and get them
ready for the adventures that will follow.
Program note by
Eric Bromberger
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