This DVD provides an ideal opportunity to study more closely Rachmaninov’s exquisite final composition, his Symphonic Dances
. What a masterly work this is with its shifting harmonies, its rhythmic vitality, its brilliant effervescent colours and beautiful melodies - and such imaginative orchestration. The cameras — with one exception in covering the percussion’s contribution — show just how well he wrote for his large orchestra particularly the woodwinds that practically sing non-stop throughout. One notices the contributions of the alto saxophone in the long winding solo in the first movement (‘Noon’) and a little later on, in the same movement, the supporting role of the piano below the lush string tune.
Temirkanov’s reading of the Symphonic Dances
is crisp and arresting; his second movement (‘Twilight’) waltz lilts beguilingly and his third (‘Midnight’) is suitably spectral although I would have liked more excitement in its coda, and it’s a great pity that the cameras did not cover the work of the percussionists more fully.
Denis Matsuev’s Rachmaninov intrigues. By sheer coincidence I saw the TV broadcast from the London Proms of him playing this same concerto to pretty rapturous applause. His view of it is rather unusual but not without emotional charge. His beginning suggests such, those portentous opening chords emphasised more, taken more slowly, more deliberately. Enough said ... and more than enough has been said already about this immensely popular piano concerto.
More interestingly, perhaps, is that the concerto is followed by two Rachmaninov instrumental pieces: the short Prelude No. 12 in G sharp minor and the Étude-tableau Op. 39 No. 2 in A minor. Rachmaninov did not disclose what pictorial imagery he had in mind when composing this latter piece. The Italian composer Respighi was to orchestrate the piece in 1931 and Rachmaninov told him that his wife had suggested that the piece might depict the sea and seagulls. Whatever imagery, Matsuev gives a spellbinding performance of this beautiful, charismatic work.
The Rimsky-Korsakov piece is another confirmed favourite and needs no comment from me. This is a splendid performance, strong and exciting especially in the finale where the ship breaks against a cliff; and tender and sensual in ‘The Young Prince and Princess’ movement. The short Elgar piece is lush enough but the bonus Verdi overture for me lacked excitement. Temirkanov conducts idiosyncratically using his hands with no baton and minimal facial expression.
For the most part a popular Late Romantic music programme delivered with spirit.
Masterwork Index: Rachmaninov piano concerto 2
~~ Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherazade