Showcase Sommerfest 2014 - page 33

july 18
Mozart and Rachmaninoff
Sommerfest
33
SOMMERFEST 2014 MINNESOTA ORCHESTRA
n the summer of 1940 Rachmaninoff set to work
on what would be his final complete work, a set
of dances for orchestra that would ultimately be
known as his Symphonic Dances, premiered by
Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra on
January 3, 1941.
i
Sergei Rachmaninoff
Born:
April 1, 1873, Semyonovo, Russia
Died:
March 28, 1943, Beverly Hills
Symphonic Dances, Opus 45
phrase are brought about by the bassoon’s imitation of
clarinet and violins. A second theme is more chromatic
and thus still more moody than the first.
Throughout, Mozart the pianist imagines himself
as the ideal opera singer. Near the end, he writes a
miraculous and especially operatic passage, the strings
playing simple broken chords, part
pizzicato
, part
arco
,
over which the piano declaims a noble and passionate
melody notable for its range: two and a half octaves,
at one point traversed in a single leap. Pianists differ
about what to do here, some simply playing the notes
in the score, other filling the gaps (in time and space)
with embellishments of their own. Our knowledge of
18th-century practice suggests that Mozart might well
have taken the latter way.
allegro assai.
After the restraint of the first movement
and the melancholia of the second, Mozart gives us a
finale of enchanting high spirits. It keeps the pianist
very busy in music that comes close to perpetual motion
and in which there is plenty to engage our ear, now so
alert to the delicacy and overflowing invention with
which Mozart uses those few and quiet instruments.
Program note excerpted from the late
Michael Steinberg
’s
The Concerto: A Listener’s Guide
(Oxford University
Press, 1995), used with permission.
opulent, sumptuous—and subtle
This score is remarkable for the opulence of its color, and
Rachmaninoff seems intent on finding and exploiting
new orchestral sonorities. More remarkable still is
Rachmaninoff’s subtle compositional method. He evolves
this music from rhythmic fragments, bits of theme,
simple patterns
which are then built up into powerful
movements that almost overflow with rhythmic energy.
non allegro.
The music opens with some of these
fragments, just bits of sound from the first violins,
and over them the English horn sounds the three-note
pattern that will permeate this work, reappearing across
its span in endless forms. Rachmaninoff plays it up into
a great climax, which subsides as the opening fragments
lead to the central episode, sung at first entirely by
woodwinds. This slow interlude—the reedy sound
of the alto saxophone is exactly
right for this wistful
music—makes its way back to the big gestures of the
beginning section, now energized by explosive timpani
salvos. In the closing moments, Rachmaninoff rounds
matters off with a grand chorale for strings, beautifully
accompanied by the glistening sound of bells, piano,
harp, piccolo and flutes, and the movement winks into
silence on the fragments with which it began.
andante con moto (tempo di valse).
The opening of the
second movement takes us into a completely different
sound-world with the icy tones of trumpets and horns,
played
forte
but stopped. Rachmaninoff calls for a waltz
tempo, but he sets the music in the untraditional meters
of 6/8 and 9/8 and has the waltz introduced by the
unlikely sound of solo English horn. This music evolves
through several episodes, some soaring, some powerful,
before subsiding in a sudden, almost breathless close.
lento assai – allegro vivace.
The slow introduction to the
final movement is enlivened by the strings’ interjections
of the three-note pattern. Gradually these anneal into
the
Allegro vivace
, and off the movement goes, full
of rhythmic energy and the sound of ringing bells.
A central episode in the tempo of the introduction
sings darkly; after wonderful sounds including eerie
string glissandos, the
Allegro vivace
returns to rush the
Symphonic Dances to a close guaranteed to rip the top
off a concert hall.
E. B.
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