Official Release: 15 October 2021
Seemingly, the three works recorded in this Da Vinci Classics album may be thought to have in common just their composer, Sergej Rachmaninov. Indeed, it would be difficult to find three more different works in his entire output: the most gigantic of his Piano Concertos is juxtaposed to two much shorter pieces, one of which is a transcription and the other is a youthful composition.
Yet, there is an important element binding the three pieces, and one which endows this CD with a meta-textual quality: all three of the pieces recorded here have been recorded also by the composer himself.
Until the late nineteenth century, it was the rule – rather than the exception – for a famous composer to be also a great virtuoso of his or her own instrument, or at least a performer of a professional standing, capable of premiering many of their own works. In the field of pianism, the names of Chopin or Liszt come immediately to one’s mind; but even though few other composers could boast such a pianistic proficiency as that of these two musicians, most were capable of successfully playing at least one instrument on the concert stage.
Throughout the nineteenth century, this identification between composer and performer began to fade, and several of the great Romantic composers abandoned the performing career very early, in order to dedicate themselves primarily or exclusively to composition.
This paradigmatic shift was also determined by the unique circumstances of Beethoven’s life and by the myth which soon came to surround his figure. The Romantic era identified Beethoven with the creative genius par excellence; however, as is well known, his deafness forced him to retire from his activity as a virtuoso pianist, and to entrust many premieres of his piano works to some of his pupils and colleagues.
In his wake, many exponents of the great Romantic symphonic tradition could be the protagonists of the first performances of their orchestral works, but would not attempt to seat on the piano stool for the premieres of their Piano Concertos.
Thus, a curious phenomenon can be observed: in parallel with the development of the recording techniques, which (from piano rolls to the first disks) allow us to study the performance practices of the past, the recordings of piano works interpreted by their composer are comparatively sparse. Still, many valuable recordings remain available, dating both from the pioneering era of music recording and from the later decades, when recording techniques became increasingly sophisticated.
Their availability has now reached a previously unimaginable dissemination, since a very high percentage of these early recordings are easily found on the internet. As a consequence, the question is often asked about the status of these documents not only “as historical witnesses”, but also as artistic paradigms. Should a composer’s performance of a piece be considered on the same plane as the score? Or even as more important than the written text? Or else as just one performance among all others?
In the case of composers whose performing skills were below the concert standard of their times, the question is more easily answered; it becomes more pressing, however, when the pianist is an extraordinary performer such as Sergei Rachmaninov.
Indeed, Rachmaninov can be said to have shared the fate of Ferruccio Busoni, another of the last great virtuoso pianists cum composers who lived in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Both, in fact, felt their fame as excellent concert musicians to be a doom rather than a boon. Both constantly strove to be recognized for their gifts and skills as composers; audiences and critics alike, however, constantly compared their feats as performers with those as composers, to the detriment of their written output.
In Rachmaninov’s case, this dualism had shown itself very early. A very gifted and promising boy, Rachmaninov at first lacked the discipline needed in order to succeed in the musical life. Therefore, he was entrusted to the – almost military – care of Zverev, a famously strict and demanding piano teacher in Moscow, under whose guidance Rachmaninov acquired the formidable technique for which he would become famous. However, after years of discipleship, Rachmaninov and Zverev quarreled precisely because of the young musician’s growing interest in composition, a discipline he was studying under the expert supervision of Sergey Taneyev and Nikolay Arensky.
The young musician completed his studies in piano and in composition almost in parallel, and some of his early works attracted the attention of audiences and professionals alike. His Prelude in C-sharp minor, written approximately at the time of his graduation in composition, immediately rose to the fame which it still enjoys; moreover, some of Rachmaninov’s most ambitious youthful works earned him the wholehearted appreciation of no less a musician than Tchaikovsky. The increasing friendship between Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov, and the constant championing of the junior composer’s works by his senior, had tempered even the sadness experienced by Rachmaninov on the occasion of Zverev’s death. However, in November 1893 Tchaikovsky himself would die, depriving the panorama of Russian music and culture of its reference figure, and young Rachmaninov of a benevolent and powerful godfather.
In spite of this, Rachmaninov would soon find the right mood for composing his seven Morceaux de salon, written between the end of 1893 and the beginning of 1894. Their very title reveals their conception as pieces seeking popularity: their premiere was given by Rachmaninov himself on January 31st, 1894, side by side with the much more intense and structured Second Piano Trio, possibly intended as a homage to the recently deceased Tchaikovsky. At their heart is the G-minor Barcarolle, of which – as previously said – a performance by the composer has been preserved in recording. Although the title’s reference is openly Chopinesque, the choices in texture and scoring are markedly different from those of Chopin, and the evocation of water suggests some proximity between Rachmaninov and the aesthetics of some “Impressionist” composers. Still, the clear intensity of the underlying tune is much more defined than those found in the coeval French tradition; indeed, the simple and singing tune proposed in the beginning seems to come from the same mold as the extremely famous opening theme of the much later Third Piano Concerto.
It is to the Viennese tradition that Rachmaninov pays homage with his transcription after Fritz Kreisler’s extremely successful Liebesleid, published by the violinist as the second of his three Alt-Wiener Tanzweisen. In the original version, the “joy” of love (Liebesfreud) is contrasted with love’s pangs (Liebesleid), and both are followed by the delightful Schön Rosmarin. Kreisler and Rachmaninov were friends and frequently performed together; indeed, Kreisler realized a successful transcription after the second movement of Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto, calling it Preghiera.
In fact, the religious dimension should not be downplayed within Rachmaninov’s output. Among the greatest masterpieces issued from his pen are certainly the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and the Vespers, magnificent examples of Russian liturgical music. Yet, arguably, a religious strain can be identified even in the most spectacular of the “secular” pieces he wrote, such as the Piano Concertos. If Kreisler’s Preghiera is inspired by the Second Concerto, also in the Third (particularly in the Finale) it is possible to identify elements which might refer to a hymnodic structure. Even in the folklike-style of the opening theme of the first movement there is a hint of “religious” modalism, although the most obvious reference is to Russian folklore. Doubtlessly, however, the Russian folk tradition is hardly distinguishable from the Orthodox imprint of Russian country life, whose religiosity intertwines inextricably with daily experiences.
It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the Russian premiere of this mammoth and extremely demanding Concerto was more successful than the world premieres, given by Rachmaninov during his tour of the US in 1909. The work’s composition had taken place during the summer months of the same year, in the estate of his wife’s family at Ivanovka. The composer had clearly tailored the piece to his own pianistic skills (to the point of favouring this Concerto over the preceding one, generally less difficult but, in the composer’s words, somewhat more “uncomfortable”). He premiered it in New York, on November 28th, 1909, with the New York Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Walter Damrosch; less than three weeks later, he would perform it again in the same city, conducted by one of the greatest composers of the era, Gustav Mahler. Mahler, who was probably the most important living symphonists, was clearly appreciative of the compositional skills of his younger colleague, and demonstrated his high professional interest in the work by rehearsing the Concerto painstakingly and meticulously. In spite of this, the American reception of the Concerto was mixed: only later, thanks to Rachmaninov’s own performances in Russia, and to the championing of this masterpiece by younger pianists (such as Vladimir Horowitz) would the Concerto achieve the immense popularity it still deservedly enjoys.
Chiara Bertoglio © 2021
Orchestra Senzaspine: founded in 2013 by Tommaso Ussardi (president) and Matteo Parmeggiani (vicepresident) and today it has more than 450 musicians from all over Italy. Senzaspine aims to give back classical music to the audience‘s love and give to young musicians concrete professional opportunities. In seven years of life Orchestra Senzaspine has changed stereotypes and has revolutionized the normal perception of classical music. Today the orchestra has to his credit more than 400 concerts and collaborations with many international soloist as Enrico Dindo, Domenico Nordio, Anna Tifu, Laura Marzadori. From 2015 the orchestra has its own seat at Mercato Sonato in Bologna, in which was made a great intervention of urban regeneration, unique in Europe.
Pietro Beltrani: Pietro Beltrani was born in 1989 and he studied piano with Mº Giorgio Farina.
After the graduation with honours at “G.Rossini” Conservatory in Pesaro (Italy), he studied at the prestigious Piano Academy “Incontri col Maestro” in Imola (Italy) with Mº Franco Scala and Mº Piero Rattalino. He’s been awarded in many national and international competitions. He played in the most important Italian halls and theatres, like Teatro “La Fenice” di Venezia, Parco della Musica in Rome, Teatro Comunale in Florence, Teatro Manzoni in Bologna, Sala “Puccini” of the Milan Conservatory, Teatro Vittoria in Turin. He took part in the best Italian Festivals, like MiTo, Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Bologna Festival, Emilia-Romagna Festival. He made his debut in some prestigious international halls, like Tbilisi State Conservatory Recital Hall (Georgia) and Carnegie Hall (New York,USA). In 2019 he made his debut with Rachmaninov Concerto n. 3 in Bologna at Teatro Manzoni.
Tommaso Ussardi: Composer and conductor, Tommaso Ussardi, graduated with honors in Composition, Choral Conducting and Orchestral Conducting. He attended several masterclasses with well-known Maestros such as C.A.Grandi, C. Landuzzi, S. Colasanti, L. Acocella, D. Pavlov, D. Renzetti. In summer 2017 and 2018 he was selected as an active student at the Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Siena at the masterclass of Maestro Daniele Gatti.
He won the Galletti Prize 2011, the Zucchelli Prize 2013, the Magone Prize 2015 and 2016, the Honorable Mention at the "Premio Nazionale delle Arti 2013" (National Award of the Arts 2013). He conducted various international orchestras and ensembles including the Orchestra and choir of Teatro Massimo in Palermo, Philarmonic Orchestra of Teatro Comunale in Bologna, Orchestra of Teatro Lirico in Cagliari, the Italian Youth Orchestra, the Orchestra and Choir of Teatro Comunale in Bologna, the Orchestra Senzaspine, the Orchestra Sinfonica Abruzzese, the Orchestra " I Pomeriggi Musicali ", Orchestra of the Opera Rouen Normandie, the Vidin Phylarmonie Orchestra, the Ensemble contemporain de Lyon, the Ensemble Res Humana, Ensemble Istantanea.
From 2017 he collaborates with internationally well-known artists such as Enrico Dindo, Salvatore Sciarrino, Silvia Colasanti, Laura Marzadori, Sofya Gulyak, Dejan Bogdanovich, Alessandro Fossi, Carlo Boccadoro Jonathan Roozeman ,Anastasiya Petryshak , Anna Tifu, Silvia Chiesa, Maurizio Baglini, Pietro Beltrani and Domenico Nordio.
In October 2015 he made his operatic debut conducting the opera Gazza Ladra by G. Rossini and Elisir d’amore by G. Donizetti at Teatro Duse in Bologna, in collaboration with Bologna Festival, in 2018 he conducted the Barbiere di Siviglia by Rossini at Teatro Duse in Bologna in collaboration with the baritone Bruno Praticò with the direction of Giovanni Dispenza.
In January 2018 he made his debut at Teatro Massimo in Palermo conducting Serva Padrona by Pergolesi with the resident orchestra of Teatro Massimo under the direction of Roberto Catalano.
In September 2018 he debuted in the Opera and Ballet Season 2018 of Teatro Massimo in Palermo in a ballet by choreographer Carolyn Carlson, and in 2019 with “Siciliana” by choreographers Kor’sia.
In 2021 he will debut with the Antonio Gades ballet company in a show named “Fuego” on the music of “El amor brujo” by M. De Falla conducting the orchestra of Teatro Lirico in Cagliari.
Since 2015 he has participated every year as stage assistant and director at the tourneè of the Teatro Comunale of Bologna in Japan under the guidance of Maestro H. Yoshida.
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.