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 Post subject: Rachmaninoff - Symphony No.2 in E Minor
PostPosted: Wed Apr 18, 2012 12:58 am 
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I thought I would start a discussion of one of my favorite Romantic symphonies. I know that there was a time when Rachmaninoff's music lost its popularity for some of these wrong headed reasons: it is too brooding and ultra romantic, to some it is like warmed over Tchaikovsky and not to taken seriously. In fact none other than John Culshaw the Decca producer had a dim view of his music and stated so in his book "Putting the Record Straight:The Autobiography of John Culshaw". But times change and Rachmaninoff's music has only increased in popularity among concert goers, especially his Paganini Rhapsody and Piano Concertos 2 and 3.

This description is from Wikipedia:

"The symphony is scored for full orchestra with 3 flutes (the 3rd doubling on piccolo), 3 oboes (the 3rd doubling on cor anglais), 2 clarinets in A and B♭, bass clarinet in A and B♭, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, snare drum, bass drum, cymbals, glockenspiel, and strings.

The symphony is in four movements:

Largo — Allegro moderato (E minor)
Allegro molto (A minor)
Adagio (A major)
Allegro vivace (E major)

The symphony consists of a dramatic sequence that is identified with Russian symphonic tradition. The tradition, established by Rachmaninoff's predecessors, places emphasis on a motif and an “unending and beautiful flow of melody”, e.g. Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 (also in E minor) and, later, Balakirev's Symphony No. 2 and Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5.

First movement
The first movement is brooding and mysterious; dramatically intense and “alternates between stormy conflict and serene vision.” The cellos and double basses introduce the melodic motto in the "slow...dense texture" of the Largo, which is an unusually long introduction to the first theme. In the Allegro moderato Rachmaninoff finishes the remainder of the movement in sonata form, which the development evoking the largo introduction before building up to two climaxes. Towards the end of the movement another theme emerges, this one in G major, carried mostly by the strings. The piece ends with the same motif as the Largo in an “understated coda”, carrying the same tempo and energy as the development but in a lighter and shorter form, as the "proper" closure to the Largo introduction is in the third movement ending.

Second movement
The second movement is a quick scherzo played Allegro molto. In the structure of the traditional Russian romantic symphony, the scherzo precedes the slow movement, as established by Borodin and Balakirev. Rachmaninoff's second movement scherzo is “vigorous to the point of abandon.” The first motif is carried out largely by the horn section. There is a second motif that relates to the first movement, becoming the “motto” motif for the whole work. The brass chorale at the end of the scherzo is chilling and derives from the Dies irae, a Gregorian chant for the dead that haunts many of Rachmaninoff's works and held great influence over his creative life (e.g. Isle of the Dead, Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini, his First Symphony, and his second set of Symphonic Dances). The brass chorale theme will later show up in the cadence of the final movement.

Third movement
This theme, again related to the work’s motif, sings through primarily in the first violin in an extremely Romantic-style melody, echoed by a solo clarinet and the oboe section. The symphony reaches its emotional climax in this movement, after an interlude of English horn and violin solo passages followed by a clarinet reverie that is reminiscent of the first movement, further developing the work’s “motto”; this development is considered the complement for the first movement Largo introduction. At the end of the Adagio, the motif is heard in its original form which again links it back to the first movement; indeed this is considered the apt ending to the first movement's initial Largo introduction. The theme from this movement was used for pop singer Eric Carmen's 1976 song, "Never Gonna Fall in Love Again". This melody was also used by jazz pianist Danilo Pérez as the main theme of his tune "If I Ever Forget You" on his Across the Crystal Sea 2008 album.

Fourth movement
In the Russian symphonic tradition, the motifs and themes of the preceding movements are collectively “summed-up” in the finale. The final movement is grand and sweeping, set in sonata form, carrying with it the essence of the work. The development incorporates ideas from the previous movements, such as the opening triplet theme, the marching melody, and the return to the Romantic string melody of the third movement."

In the discontinued and closed Youtube thread in this CMM forum you will find my link to Andre Previn's 2007 performance:




Please give a listen then tell me what you people think of this music. Note the gorgeous clarinet solo in the third movement.

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 Post subject: Re: Rachmaninoff Symphony #2 in E Minor
PostPosted: Wed Apr 18, 2012 6:00 pm 
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Bravo digiti. Your new thread has been immortalised in our Orchestral topic index and Facebook page.

I'll check out that video when I have time. But in addition here is a recording you can play/download free and legal, performed by University of Chicago Orchestra with Barbara Schubert conducting...


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 Post subject: Re: Rachmaninoff - Symphony No.2 in E Minor
PostPosted: Thu Apr 19, 2012 7:02 pm 
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Digiti wrote:
First movement
The first movement is brooding and mysterious; dramatically intense and “alternates between stormy conflict and serene vision.” The cellos and double basses introduce the melodic motto in the "slow...dense texture" of the Largo, which is an unusually long introduction to the first theme. In the Allegro moderato Rachmaninoff finishes the remainder of the movement in sonata form, which the development evoking the largo introduction before building up to two climaxes. Towards the end of the movement another theme emerges, this one in G major, carried mostly by the strings. The piece ends with the same motif as the Largo in an “understated coda”, carrying the same tempo and energy as the development but in a lighter and shorter form, as the "proper" closure to the Largo introduction is in the third movement ending.

I decided to work my way through the UCO performance first, and then go to the Previn video to see if I notice any improvement! Just been listening their rendition of the first movement, which lasts 20 mins. The above description is apt, the music was not quite what I was expecting from R, though it didn't take too long before I heard some familiar turns of phrase. The opening ominous Largo was interesting, for what follows the selection of an Allegro moderato tempo beloved of the Romantics came as less of a surprise however (was 'con brio' struck out of the musical dictionary after Beethoven died?). We have a sequence of stormy outbursts and serenading strings (the material which gave me the most familiar Rachmaninovian feel). Sometimes the moderato meandering didn't really hold my attention, in this performance at least. I wait to see if Previn's direction improves that impression, I am expecting a more coherent presentation.

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 Post subject: Re: Rachmaninoff - Symphony No.2 in E Minor
PostPosted: Thu Apr 19, 2012 7:58 pm 
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Rod,


I enjoyed the UCO performance very much but two conductors have owned this piece as far as I am concerned: Previn with the LSO and Eugene Ormandy with the Philadelphia Orchestra. So the Previn should be a revelation to you. Several listening sessions will solidify the symphony's structure in your mind then the nuances of the writing will become more apparent.

The uncut version of the symphony just includes some repetitons of motivic material that is excised in the cut version.I do not find the difference to be that significant. I prefer the uncut version because that is the way it is performed now almost everywhere and it has become the version more familiar to me. A personal anecdote: I heard the cut version of the symphonies 29 years ago at a BSO Tanglewood concert conducted by Ormandy. I was sitting in the front section of Music Shed so I was able to see the scores on the musician's music stands with whole measures blacked out to indicate the locations of the cuts. Either way hearing the symphony live was an unforgettable experience.

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 Post subject: Re: Rachmaninoff - Symphony No.2 in E Minor
PostPosted: Thu Apr 19, 2012 8:23 pm 
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Digiti wrote:

The uncut version of the symphony just includes some repetitons of motivic material that is cut from cut version.I do not find the difference to be that significant. I prefer the uncut version because that is the way it is performed now almost everywhere and it has become more familiar to me. I heard the cut version of the symphonies 29 years ago at a BSO Tanglewood concert conducted by Ormandy. I was sitting in the front section of Music Shed so I was able to see the scores on the musician's music stands with whole measures blacked out to indicate the locations of the cuts.Either way hearing the symphony live was an unforgettable experience.

What is this about cuts? Were they an afterthought of the composer?

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 Post subject: Re: Rachmaninoff - Symphony No.2 in E Minor
PostPosted: Thu Apr 19, 2012 9:49 pm 
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Rachmaninoff lacked self-confidence so he was cajoled by many conductors into making the cuts in the symphony. Here is a discussion of the cuts made over the years:

http://podiumnotes.org/2010/08/20/the-q ... -symphony/

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 Post subject: Re: Rachmaninoff - Symphony No.2 in E Minor
PostPosted: Fri Apr 20, 2012 8:50 pm 
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Digiti wrote:
Rachmaninoff lacked self-confidence so he was cajoled by many conductors into making the cuts in the symphony. Here is a discussion of the cuts made over the years:

http://podiumnotes.org/2010/08/20/the-q ... -symphony/

Well, presuming the UCO play a cut version, 20 minutes is more than enough for one movement, so perhaps those conductors had a point. However given my remark about coherence issues I noticed with this movement, one could look at things two ways - perhaps it needed that extra stuff to make it more coherent, or perhaps that extra stuff made matters worse in this regard, hence the conductors' disapproval.

I looked at that web page you provided. I would immediately discount the use of any cuts not included by R whilst conducting his own performances or otherwise given his authorisation, but the writer mentions that he believed based on the programmes that R typically performed the piece 'complete'. If that could be proved I would regard the complete version as the default.

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 Post subject: Re: Rachmaninoff - Symphony No.2 in E Minor
PostPosted: Sat Apr 21, 2012 3:43 pm 
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I believe that it was standard practice before the '70s to play edited versions of Rachmaninov's 2nd symphony, and also the 3rd piano concerto. I recently rescued an lp of Moura Lympany playing the 3rd PC in what looked and sounded like an early '50s recording. it meandered a lot less than I remembered more modern performances doing.

Best wishes,

Adam


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 Post subject: Re: Rachmaninoff - Symphony No.2 in E Minor
PostPosted: Sat Apr 21, 2012 5:24 pm 
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If anyone is intersted in a very good cut performance of the symphony here is one from 1946 with Leopold Stokowski and the Hollywood Bowl Symphony [actually the LAPO] that can be downloaded:




This is the way I first heard this symphony in the late 1950s.

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 Post subject: Re: Rachmaninoff - Symphony No.2 in E Minor
PostPosted: Sun Apr 22, 2012 7:48 pm 
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Putting the cuts issues aside for the moment so I can move on to the scherzo performed by the UCO. As I was expecting the Romantic take on the word 'scherzo' is not exactly literal, this is by and large a serious movement. The opening theme from the horns identifies the music's strong martial characteristics from the outset, thought I'd have left out the snare drums that appear later (a cheap effect typically), their being a too literal reference. The music is swift but I'm not sure they are playing a true Allegro molto here? Certainly nowhere could it be described as “vigorous to the point of abandon.” Either way matters are soon interrupted with the inevitable sentimental serenading theme. The most novel feature I would say appears just before mid-way though the movement, a confused episode the more keeping with the scherzo designation, otherwise nothing particularly new here. The solemn 'brass chorale' at the end might lead the listener to think there is more trouble ahead in the next movement, but nothing could be further from the truth, what follows is fourteen minutes of pure Rachmaninoff syrup!

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 Post subject: Re: Rachmaninoff - Symphony No.2 in E Minor
PostPosted: Mon Apr 23, 2012 1:10 am 
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Rod,

Give me that ''pure Rachmaninoff syrup" any day. A little schmaltz never hurt anyone.

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 Post subject: Re: Rachmaninoff - Symphony No.2 in E Minor
PostPosted: Mon Apr 23, 2012 6:31 pm 
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Digiti wrote:
Rod,

Give me that ''pure Rachmaninoff syrup" any day. A little schmaltz never hurt anyone.

A lot of people in the UK would agree with you, R's second concerto is the most popular piece of music in this years Classic FM 'Hall of Fame' poll. Not for the first time I'm sure...

classic-fm-hall-of-fame-t1569.html

I like chocolate but too much sugar makes me sick and is bad for my teeth. :D

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 Post subject: Re: Rachmaninoff - Symphony No.2 in E Minor
PostPosted: Mon Apr 23, 2012 8:20 pm 
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Apropos your British FM radio station's classical favorites listing here is the Classical Countdown from WQXR in NYC my local station:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/articles/wqxr-fe ... countdown/

You will note the Rachmaninoff 2nd Symphony is not even listed but the 2nd Piano Concerto made it to #8.


Also the only UK composers that made the first 75 were Elgar and Holst.

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 Post subject: Re: Rachmaninoff - Symphony No.2 in E Minor
PostPosted: Mon Apr 23, 2012 8:28 pm 
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Digiti wrote:
Apropos your British FM radio station's classical favorites listing here is the Classical Countdown from WQXR in NYC my local station:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/articles/wqxr-fe ... countdown/

You will note the Rachmaninoff 2nd Symphony is not even listed but the 2nd Piano Concerto made it to #8.


Also the only UK composers that made the first 75 were Elgar and Holst.

Looks like New Yorkers prefer Beethoven's symphonies, I won't argue with that.

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 Post subject: Re: Rachmaninoff - Symphony No.2 in E Minor
PostPosted: Mon Apr 23, 2012 10:36 pm 
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Phlogiston wrote:
I believe that it was standard practice before the '70s to play edited versions of Rachmaninov's 2nd symphony, and also the 3rd piano concerto. I recently rescued an lp of Moura Lympany playing the 3rd PC in what looked and sounded like an early '50s recording. it meandered a lot less than I remembered more modern performances doing.

Best wishes,

Adam



You are correct about the timeline of cut versus original versions of both works you mentioned. However the only cut that seems to be made today in the 3rd piano concerto is using the shorter cadenza in the first movement which I think is still a choice that the soloist makes but I could be wrong.

From Wikipedia on the concerto cuts:
"Rachmaninoff authorized several cuts in the score, to be made at the performer's discretion. These cuts, particularly in the second and third movements, were commonly taken in performance and recordings during the initial decades following the Concerto's publication. More recently, it has become commonplace to perform the concerto without cuts. A typical performance of the complete concerto lasts about forty minutes."



Best wishes,

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