Showcase Sommerfest 2014 - page 23

soloist not merely as someone who can sing soulfully
and thunder imposingly, but as an alert, flexible,
responsive musician who knows how to listen, blend
and accompany. And even in this non-prima-donna
role the challenge is greater here than in the Second
Program note excerpted from the late
The Concerto: A Listener’s Guide (Oxford
University Press, 1998)
, used with permission.
t Pörtschach on Lake Wörth in southern Austria,
Brahms once said, melodies were so abundant that one
had to be careful not to step on them. There, in the
summer of 1877, he wrote his Second Symphony.
Johannes Brahms
May 7, 1833, Hamburg
April 3, 1897, Vienna
Symphony No. 2 in D major, Opus 73
july 10, 11
Rachmaninoff and Brahms
accompaniment does indeed let the singing through,
but even while exquisitely tactful in its recessiveness,
it is absolutely specific—a real and characterful
invention, the fragmentary utterances of the violins
now anticipating, now echoing the pianist’s song, the
woodwinds sometimes and with utmost gentleness
reinforcing the bass or joining the piano in a few notes
of its melody. The further progress of the movement
abounds in felicities and ingenuities, sharply imagined
and elegantly executed.
intermezzo: adagio.
“Intermezzo” is a curiously shy
designation for a movement as expansive as this, though
we shall discover that it is in fact all upbeat to a still
more expansive
. It is a series of variations, broken
up by a feather-light waltz. The clarinet-and-bassoon
melody of the waltz is close cousin to the Concerto’s
principal theme, and the piano’s dizzying figuration, too,
is made of diminutions of the same material.
finale: alla breve.
When the
yields to the
explosive start of the
, we again find ourselves
caught up in a torrent of virtuosity and invention.
Rachmaninoff gives us the surprise of a series of
variations on what pretends to be a new idea but is in
fact an amalgam of the first movement’s second theme
and the beginning of the finale. His evocations of earlier
material are imaginative and structural achievements on
a level far above the naive quotation-mongering of, say,
César Franck or even Dvořák.
Rachmaninoff was anxious to put his best foot forward
in America. His Second Concerto had already been
played in New York, and Rachmaninoff wanted his new
work to convey a clear sense of his growing powers as
composer and pianist. It does have features in common
with the Second:
the sparkling, dense, yet always
lucid piano style, a certain melancholy to the song, an
extroverted rhetorical stance, the apotheosized ending,
even the final YUM-pa-ta-TUM cadential formula that
is as good as a signature. But the differences are even
more important, and they are essentially matters of
ambition and scope. The procedures that hold this work
together are far beyond the capabilities of the composer
of the Second Concerto eight years earlier.
Also, much more is asked of the pianist. The Third
Concerto makes immense demands on stamina, the
orchestral passages that frame the
being the
soloist’s only moments of respite. Rachmaninoff sees the
Rachmaninoff reviewing his Third Piano Concerto, 1910.
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