Did Rachmaninov realise that the Symphonic Dances would be his last work? Whether he had such a premonition or not, few composers have ended their careers with such appropriate music, for the Symphonic Dances contain all that is finest in Rachmaninov, representing a compendium of a lifetime’s musical and emotional experience.
The work’s composition was preceded by a big public retrospective of his triple career as composer, pianist and conductor. On 11 August 1939 Rachmaninov gave his last performance in Europe and shortly afterwards left with his family for the US, one of many artists driven from Europe by the approach of war. In the following winter season the Philadelphia Orchestra gave five all- Rachmaninov concerts in New York to mark the 30th anniversary of his American debut (in 1909 he had premièred his Third Piano Concerto in New York, first with Walter Damrosch and then with Gustav Mahler conducting). Rachmaninov appeared as pianist and conductor; the works played included the first three piano concertos, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the Second and Third Symphonies, the symphonic poem The Isle of the Dead and the choral symphony The Bells.
Total time: 00:58:29
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Jonathan Stokes (Classic Sound Ltd.)
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|Release Date||January 15, 2016|
At first glance, the pairing of Sergey Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances and Igor Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements might seem like a stylistic mismatch, since the post-Romantic composer and the neo-classicist seem to have had little in common, apart from their shared Russian nationality and heritage. Yet there is a meeting place between these compositions, because Symphonic Dances is the most modernist-leaning of Rachmaninov’s works and fully oriented toward the dance, while the Symphony in Three Movements shows Stravinsky in his familiar ballet mode, which is apparent despite a formal structure that barely qualifies as a symphony.
Add to this the use of ostinato in both works, and the emphasis on strong, muscular rhythmic development, and the differences between the composers become less pronounced. Valery Gergiev leads the London Symphony Orchestra in these live performances, and few other conductors could bring out the works’ boldness and energy, and even pugnacity, in the same way. Forceful and robust, Gergiev and the LSO are nearly obsessive in keeping the rhythms precise, and their attention to the music’s pulse and propulsion gives this live album its spontaneity and excitement.
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