RACHMANINOV Symphony No. 2, Dances from Aleko. Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra / Vasily Petrenko. EMI

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RACHMANINOV

Dances from Aleko

Women's Dance - Tempo di valse

Men's Dance - Vivo - Meno mosso, alla zingana

Symphony No.2 in E minor Opus 27

Largo — Allegro moderato

Allegro molto

Adagio

Allegro vivace

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra / Vasily Petrenko

The second in this series of releases highlighting the Russian music of our conductor’s heritage. Vasily Petrenko conducts the RLPO for Rachmaninov’s much loved and best known symphony - No.2 in E minor. Also included are the Dances from Rachmaninov’s one act opera, “Aleko”, the work which effectively launched the young composer’s professional career.

Since Petrenko took up the baton of the RLPO’s Principal Conductor in 2006 (and then Chief Conductor in 2009), this partnership has flourished; and the orchestra is now considered Premier League.

The partnership of Petrenko and the RLPO have been making critics and audiences sit up and take notice, particularly in their interpretations of music by the Russian masters. EMI recently released the new recording of Rachmaninov Symphony No.3 - here are just a few highlights of the reviews:

Sunday Times Culture Section Jan 2012 (Hugh Canning)

“The RLPO strings….have never seemed more sumptuous than in the long melodies of the central adagio, and their brilliant articulation of virtuoso allegro passages at Petrenko’s fast tempi brings exhilarating dividends. In this magnificently played account, the stature of the music is never in doubt.”

Gramophone magazine Dec 2011/Jan 2012 (Geoffrey Norris)

“The RLPO play magnificently, responding to Petrenko’s purposeful beat and to the sort of judgement in terms of melodic shaping that also makes the orchestral arrangement of the Vocalise sound so pure and unfettered in its allure.”

Classic FM Dec 2011/Jan 2012 (James McCarthy)

“Petrenko and the RLPO walk the tightrope of romanticism with perfect poise….This is a beautifully balanced performance, exquisitely recorded.”

Symphony No.2 in E minor

Rachmaninov was not altogether convinced that he was a gifted symphonist. At its 1897 premiere, his Symphony No. 1 (conducted by Alexander Glazunov) was considered an utter disaster; criticism of it was so harsh that it sent the young composer into a bout of depression. Even after the success of his Piano Concerto No. 2 (which won the Glinka Award and 500 rubles in 1904), Rachmaninov still lacked confidence in his writing. So he was very unhappy with the first draft of his Second Symphony - but after months of revision, he finished the work and conducted the premiere (St Petersburg, 8 Feb 1908) to great applause. The work earned him another Glinka Award ten months later. The triumph regained Rachmaninov's sense of self-worth as a symphonist.

The Second Symphony, along with his Third Piano Concerto (1909), display Rachmaninov’s fully-fledged melodic style (particularly in the slow movement of the symphony), his opulent but infinitely varied and discerning use of the orchestra (notably in the symphony’s scherzo), and a greater confidence in the handling of large-scale structures.

The score is dedicated to Sergei Taneyev, a Russian composer, teacher, theorist, author, and pupil of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

Aleko is a tragic outsider whose lover, Zemfira, abandons him for a younger man in Pushkin’s poem The Gypsies.

The story was adapted by Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko for a one-act opera, which was set as a graduation exercise for Rachmaninov and his fellow students at the Moscow Conservatory in 1892. Rachmaniov’s opera not only won him the Great Gold Medal of the Conservatory – a rare honour – but he also received the acclaim of Tchaikovsky, who, as a member of the audience at its first public performance in April 1893, declared himself charmed by the piece.

The two Dances appear fairly early on in the opera as diversions - character pieces - before the main action gets underway. Scarcely have we made the acquaintance of Zemfira’s father – a stern and impassive character – and the fatal triangle of lovers, than the chorus interrupts the old gypsy with: “That’s enough, old fellow! These stories are tedious and we shall forget them in merrymaking and dancing.”

First, the gypsy girls perform to haunting, seductive music in a slow, lilting rhythm. Rachmaninov’s entrusting of the main theme to a clarinet in its low register defines the mood of an exotic dance, rich in solo woodwind characterisation. Then, in vigorous contrast, follows the Men’s Dance – a piece in which the grotesque humour of stealthy basses and bassoons in moderate tempo alternates with outbursts of the typical rapid semiquavers of gypsy fiddle music.

The Dances soon became popular as separate concert items in Russia’s musical life

EMI 9154732

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