Showcase March-April 2015 - page 52

52
MINNESOTA ORCHESTRA SHOWCASE
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 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
Finale
. 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
Intermezzo
yields to the
explosive start of the
Finale
, 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
Intermezzo
being the
soloist’s only moments of respite. Rachmaninoff sees the
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 Concerto.
Instrumentation:
solo piano with orchestra
comprising 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets,
2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones,
tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals,
snare drum, suspended cymbal and strings
Program note excerpted from the late
Michael Steinberg
’s
The Concerto: A Listener’s Guide
(Oxford University Press,
1998), used with permission.
Igor Stravinsky
Born:
June 17, 1882, Oranienbaum
Died:
April 6, 1971, New York City
The Rite of Spring
[1947 version]
n the spring of 1910, while completing the
orchestration of
The Firebird
, Igor Stravinsky had the
most famous dream in the history of music: “I saw in
imagination a solemn pagan rite: wise elders, seated in
a circle, watching a young girl dancing herself to death.
They were sacri cing her to propitiate the god of spring.”
This idea became
The Rite of Spring
, which Stravinsky
began composing in the summer of 1911, immediately
after the premiere of
Petrushka
. For help in creating a
scenario that would evoke the spirit of pagan Russia,
Stravinsky turned to the painter-archeologist-geologist
Nicholas Roerich, who summarized the action:
“The rst set should transport us to the foot of a sacred
hill, in a lush plain, where Slavonic tribes are gathered
together to celebrate the spring rites. In this scene there
is an old witch who predicts the future, a marriage by
capture, round dances. Then comes the most solemn
moment. The wise elder is brought from the village to
Program Notes
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