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|Howard Shelley (piano)|
|Steven Osborne (piano) September 2014 Release|
The Variations on a theme of Corelli were completed in June 1931, during one of Rachmaninov’s European summer breaks. For this, the only work for solo piano he composed after leaving Russia in 1917, he chose the old dance melody known as ‘La Folia’—not actually composed by Corelli, but used by him in his Violin Sonata No 12. Apart from most likely prompting the Sonata revision, the 'Corelli Variations' seem to have been a catalyst for his next new work, the Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini for piano and orchestra. Not only is the Rhapsody also in the form of variations, but there are several clear premonitions of its ideas in the Corelli set.
Not entirely convinced of the success of the 'Corelli Variations', Rachmaninov generally omitted some of the twenty variations in performance. In three instances (Nos 11, 12 and 19) he even allowed that option in the score. He explained himself drily in a letter to Medtner of 21 December 1931: ‘I was guided by the coughing of the audience. Whenever the coughing increased, I would skip the next variation. Whenever there was no coughing, I would play them in proper order.’ In fact the design works perfectly well without such surgery, the variations grouping themselves into a quasi-four-movement sonata, in which the ‘slow movement’ begins in the major mode after a cadenza-like ‘Intermezzo’.
from notes by David Fanning © 2014
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