RACHMANINOV Trio élégiaque No.1 in G minor (14’)
PROKOFIEV Sonata for Cello (23’)
TCHAIKOVSKY String Quartet No.2 in F Op.22 (36’)
A blistering celebration of Russian music. Best known for his sweeping symphonic music and monumental works for piano, this concert opens with a heart-wrenching trio by Rachmaninov. It concludes with Tchaikovsky’s profoundly moving Second Quartet.
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RACHMANINOV Sergei, Trio élégiaque No.1 in G minor
Alla marcia funebre
Rachmaninov wrote two piano trios, both called “elegiac”. The second (D minor) trio was composed at the end of 1893 as a memorial to Tchaikovsky, but the present G minor Trio dates from January 1892, and was first performed on 30 January 1892 with Rachmaninov at the piano and his friend Anatoly Brandukov as the cellist – later to be the dedicatee of Rachmaninov’s Cello Sonata and best man at Rachmaninov’s wedding. The G minor Trio was written while Rachmaninov was still a student, and is a single-movement lamentation. The main theme (reminiscent of a melody in Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony) is first presented by the piano over shimmering bare fifths. This idea dominates the movement, appearing in a variety of guises, and the contrasting falling melody that is no more consoling. The final presentation of the main idea is the most stark – a transformation into a funeral march.
Nigel Simeone © 2011
PROKOFIEV Sergei, Sonata for Cello
In 1947 Prokofiev heard a young Mstislav Rostropovich, aged twenty at the time, performing his First Cello Concerto. Prokofiev decided to compose a piece especially for him and the result was the Cello Sonata, written in 1949, to be performed by Rostropovich and pianist Sviatoslav Richter. After a tedious process of playing the work to the Soviet Composer’s Union to ensure that the new sonata was not ‘hostile to the spirit of the people’, they were finally allowed to give the premiere at the Moscow Conservatory on 1 March 1950. It was well received, with Prokofiev’s friend and colleague Nikolai Miaskovsky described the sonata as ‘a miraculous piece of music.’
The first movement opens with a brooding theme in the cello’s lowest register, gradually emerging from the depths before arriving at a slightly quicker section and a dramatic climax, then a return to the opening material and a coda which eventually subsides on to quiet C major chords. The second movement begins with a theme on the piano and its short rhythmic cells soon generate further ideas in a dialogue between cello and piano. A central section introduces a contrasting idea in triple time before the initial ideas return. The finale shifts effortlessly through a bewildering range of keys while maintaining an almost constant sense of momentum. A brief respite comes before the exciting close, which Prokofiev published in two versions (one less technically demanding than the other), bringing the work to a powerful conclusion in C major.
© Nigel Simeone
TCHAIKOVSKY Pyotr, String Quartet No.2 in F Op.22
Adagio – Moderato assai
Scherzo. Allegro giusto
Andante ma non tanto
Finale. Allegro con moto
Tchaikovsky wrote his Second String Quartet in January 1874 and it remains a neglected work – a fate it shares with the Third Quartet of 1876 – certainly when compared with the better-known First Quartet. In his biography Tchaikovsky: the man and his music, David Brown has suggested that the F major shows Tchaikovsky trying to grapple with the economy and rigour of Beethoven’s quartets, particularly in the first movement where the thematic material is “more concise” than might be expected with Tchaikovsky, “thus facilitating far greater flexibility in what is built from it.” This is a very fair assessment of a movement that has clear debts to Beethoven in terms of structure and compositional process. The Scherzo is delightfully quirky, based on a lopsided bar of 2, 2 and 3 beats until the more stable, waltz-like Trio section. The emotional core of the work is anguished slow movement (David Brown describes this as music of pain-filled intensity). The Rondo finale that follows is effervescent and untroubled.
© Nigel Simeone