Regular Feature: If Only They Had Written for
No. 3: Sergey RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Rachmaninov died only ten years or so after the establishment of modern original
scores at the beginning of the talkies era. His music has been
used in several films, notably his Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor in Brief
Encounter, and the famous Variation No. 18 of his Rhapsody on a Theme
of Paganini in The Story of Three Loves. His Piano Concerto No.
3 was played and was featured extensively in Shine, the film based
on the life of pianist David Helfgott. Interestingly, at the same time as
the early scores by Max Steiner and Korngold etc., there was a late flowering
in Rachmaninovs composing career: the Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini
(1934), the Symphony No. 3 in A minor (1936), and Symphonic Dances (1940).
But Rachmaninov was very much occupied with his concert platform career as
one of the most accomplished pianists ever and so the chances of him composing
for the screen were slim indeed. Nevertheless his compositions are the stuff
of film music: heroic, sadly sentimental, romantic and yearning; colourful
and atmospheric -- and supremely melodic
Besides the immensely popular Piano Concerto No. 2, the following works are
recommended, they are representative of different genres.
Rachmaninovs Symphony No. 2 brims with good tunes; it is exciting with
one of the composers most appealing broad romantic melodies gracing
the slow movement. The recommended recording is by André Previn recently
reissued in EMIs Great Recordings of the Century series. Another remarkable
reissue in this admirable series is the brilliant performance by Michelangeli
of Rachmaninovs greatly undervalued and less immediately accessible,
but nonetheless rewarding Piano Concerto No. 4 (coupled with Ravels
Piano Concerto in G Major). The more immediately appealing Piano Concerto
No. 3 is played by Martha Argerich who attacks Rachmaninovs passionate
music like a tigress in the Philips (446 673-2) top recommendation which
also includes a hair-raising account of Tchaikovskys very popular Piano
Concerto No. 1.
Rachmaninovs symphonic poem, The Isle of the Dead could have
been written for a screenplay. The evocative opening music of a boat, carrying
the coffin, gliding through the mist towards the mysterious island of
Böcklins gloomy painting is very potent and the turbulent central
music recalling the dead ones tumultuous life is also remarkably
compelling. The recommended recording is by Ashkenazy, and it is coupled
with Rachmaninovs tremendously exciting Symphonic Dances on
Decca. As a sample of Rachmaninovs instrumental writing for piano,
why not try the new, highly esteemed BIS recording of the Piano Sonata No
2 and the Études-tableaux Op. 39 played by Freddy Kempf?
Finally Rachmaninovs sublime and very melodic a cappella choral
music of his Vespers (or All-Night-Vigils) should not be missed.
Here the recommended recording is by The Saint Petersburg Cappella on Saisson
Russe (harmonia mundi) RUS 788050.
Incidentally, five of Rachmaninovs Études-tableaux were
orchestrated by the Italian composer, Ottorino Respighi. Respighi will be
the subject of next months edition of If Only They Had Written