A journey under hypnosis. This is the Sonata in G minor for Cello and Piano Op. 19 which Sergej Rachmaninoff composed in 1901. It is a crucial work for the composer’s life, professional and otherwise, and it is therefore interesting to know the exegesis of this Sonata. Therefore, it is necessary to go back four years, when in 1897 Rachmaninoff’s First Symphony Op. 13 received a clear rejection by the critics, a fiasco that threw him into a deep depressive state that would not allow him to work anymore and to compose if not in a highly discontinuous and unprofitable way. So, he put himself in the hands of Professor Nikolai Dahl, a luminary of psychiatry who, a former pupil of Freud, had developed an experimental therapy based on hypnosis. Rachmaninoff recovered thanks to the treatment of Professor Dahl and dedicated his Second Concerto for Piano and Orchestra to him (Op. 18, which precedes the Sonata for cello and piano Op. 19) which was being completed just during the last sessions of treatment, when approaching healing and, therefore, the happy conclusion of an uncertain rehabilitative process. It is to this Sonata that Rachmaninoff assigns the function of telling his lived experience, his battle, fought and won, against the dark evil. Some general considerations. The harmonic affinity of the frame tone (G minor) with Chopin’s Sonata for Cello and Piano is not, in my opinion, casual. It cannot be ruled out that Rachmaninoff wanted to write this Sonata exactly in the same tonality as that of Chopin, a composition which he knew well and loved very much. But it is in a general sense that Rachmaninoff loved Chopin very much, whose figure and work had a great influence on him. As early as the early 1900s, Rachmaninoff was among the first internationally renowned concert performers to be universally recognized as a great Chopinian interpreter. But with Chopin’s Sonata there is not only tonal affinity, but an equally massive use of counterpoint that makes the lines of the two instruments equal, certainly from a linguistic point of view, where the piano seems to have a density and a brilliance of writing typical of the concerto. Another point of contact with Chopin’s music is, by virtue of what has been told, the autobiography of this composition. Of generous proportions, this Sonata, structured in the typical form of the romantic Sonata in four movements, represents one of Rachmaninoff’s most successful and beloved works for the beauty of its themes, now clear and touching, now melodious and seemingly endless, witnesses of a marked personal style in the tradition of an authentically Russian spirit. The first movement (Lento – Allegro moderato) opens with a brief introduction (Lento) which does not end with this too exemplary definition. Musically difficult, harmoniously intricate, it has a great importance in the physiognomy and economy of the entire Sonata. This is where this journey begins in the most uncertain, unexplored, dramatic and, why not, frightening meanders of the human psyche. An essential, bare, thematic cell, made up of just two notes one semitone apart from the other, opens up what will be a long and untangled path. The whole Op.19 will be developed from this minimal idea, just as the “whole” and the numbers are created infinitely from the philosophical-mathematical “One”, or the whole universe is created from the Big Bang. This floating semitone is repeated wandering from one tonality to another in search of a truth, a foothold, a light.
Erratic, it treads roads that do not lead to anything, reaching desperately to very distant tonalities. Some consonances try to reassure giving breath to a yearning for optimism, a flame of hope that burns tenuously in an immaterial and unmoving space where even gravity does not seem to exist or be significantly reduced. The route is difficult to find, and this brief background fades into the most total irresolution where even the starting point, to eventually try again, is lost. Some resolute chords on the piano intervene trenchant, as if to escape without half measures from an uncomfortable topic. Here Rachmaninoff begins to tell a story. From that initial and vain pursuit the movement therefore passes, without hesitation, to an Allegro moderato whose very rich thematic material is very well connected. An interesting aspect is represented by the fact that there are numerous changes of tempo, meticulously indicated, which reveal fickleness or in any case a certain emotional instability. Despite moments of a stupendously intense lyricism are not missing at all, the whole movement is pervaded by a sense of tribulation underlined by very strong harmonic tensions and by an often frenetic rhythmics. The “famous” semitone of the initial Lento reappears everywhere, sometimes dilated in tone, constituting a very important discursive cell always in the foreground and which, at the highest point of its nervous tension, arrives to take on the appearance of a veritable maddened splinter. The writing is very refined and the pathos reaches high peaks of psycho-dramatic theatricality. The Scherzo has wider proportions than usual and contains two cantabile themes instead of one. It follows the articulated formal ABACABA scheme where also C, the second cantabile theme, contains within it a deliberately broad thematic development for the section. To the pounding and obscure main opening theme, in which the cello alternates mumbles in the lowest register with impulses towards the higher tones that seem to scream to the sky, the two cantabili are opposed. The first, whose previous material seems to be sucked into a black hole, appears almost suddenly increasing the contrast between the sections and has more the character of a dreamlike or, why not, hypnotic getting lost, of a bitter-sweet abandonment in a vortex to which, willy-nilly, one cannot escape.
The second cantabile is more airy where the voice of the cello hovers in a heartfelt and liberating song. Probably in Andante Rachmaninoff has been able to imagine himself in a more serene dimension, perhaps a dream transfiguring the strong desire for healing, writing what turns out to be simply a wonderful romance that infuses so much tranquillity and hope. The final movement (Allegro mosso) contains overflowing quantities of brio and a very pleasant writing brilliance. It is a striking rebirth, a joyful hymn to life sung urbi et orbi. It is the end of illness, with its darkness and its
Album Notes by Orazio Ferrari
Translation: Wilma Mancini Collia
Marco Sanna, born in Cagliari (Italy) 1989, has already made a name for himself by playing both as a soloist and also in chamber ensembles in Italy, Germany, Sweden, USA, Switzerland, Spain, France and Belgium, in important concert Halls as Philharmonie Berlin, Kammermusiksaal Berlin, Konzerthaus Berlin, Beethovenhaus Bonn, Schumanns Haus Zwickau and many others. He is a regular feature at festivals such as the Verbier Festival, Rheingaufestival, Beethovenfest Bonn, Rome International Piano Festival, Budapest Festival and many others. He has recorded with the clarinetist Andy Miles. The album “Chopin & Schumann” (Velut Luna, 2014) with the double-bass player Orazio Ferrari has been praised by magazines as “The Strad”, “Gramophone”, “Audiophile” and many others.
Italian double-bassist Orazio Ferrari has gained great critical acclaim for his debut album, the world premiere recording "Chopin & Schumann" (Velut Luna - CVLD 245). In this 2014 release, to be understood as the summa of his instrumental and musical beliefs, his way to approach the double-bass is modern, bold and completely centered to reach the highest musical goals through an instrument widely misunderstood in the Classical Music field. This “boldness” comes from the intent (rather a strong will) to play cello music on the double-bass at the same cello pitch, expanding very much the possibilities of the instrument without any modification or arrangement of the original cello score. This deserved praiseworthy reviews by some of the most important international music magazines such as The Strad, Gramophone and Audiophile Sound. Orazio Ferrari was born in Crotone. He started to play piano at 7 and graduated brilliantly and in advance of schedule in Double-bass at “San Pietro a Majella” Conservatory in Naples under E. Calzolari, achieving afterwards a Master Degree in Solo Double-bass with full marks. He performs by using exclusively the standard E-A-D-G double-bass tuning.
Sergey Rachmaninov: (b Oneg, 20 March/1 April 1873; d Beverly Hills, CA, 28 March 1943). Russian composer, pianist and conductor. He was one of the finest pianists of his day and, as a composer, the last great representative of Russian late Romanticism. The influences of Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and other Russian composers soon gave way to a thoroughly personal idiom, with a pronounced lyrical quality, expressive breadth, structural ingenuity and a palette of rich, distinctive orchestral colours.