Hyperion Records

Symphonic Dances, Op 45
for Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra; two-piano version completed on 10 August 1940; orchestral version made between 22 September and 29 October the same year

'Medtner: Music for two pianos' (CDH55337)
Medtner: Music for two pianos
Buy by post £5.50 CDH55337  Helios (Hyperion's budget label)  
'Rachmaninov: Symphonic Dances; Stravinsky: Symphony in three movements' (LSO0688)
Rachmaninov: Symphonic Dances; Stravinsky: Symphony in three movements
LSO0688  Download only   Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
'Rachmaninov: Music for two pianos' (CDH55209)
Rachmaninov: Music for two pianos
Buy by post £5.50 CDH55209  Helios (Hyperion's budget label)  
Movement 1: Non allegro – Lento – Tempo I
Track 9 on CDH55209 [10'41] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Track 9 on CDH55337 [11'08] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Track 1 on LSO0688 [12'56] Download only
Movement 2: Andante con moto: Tempo di valse
Movement 3: Lento assai – Allegro vivace – Lento assai – Allegro vivace
Track 11 on CDH55209 [12'27] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Track 11 on CDH55337 [13'03] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Track 3 on LSO0688 [13'49] Download only

Symphonic Dances, Op 45
‘My last spark’, composed for Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia (Rachmaninov’s favourite American orchestra), the Symphonic Dances—a symphony in all but name, incorporating material from an unfinished ballet The Scythians, sketched in Russia in 1915—was originally planned as a triptych: ‘Noon’, ‘Twilight’, ‘Midnight’. Consistently, Rachmaninov refused to be drawn on its programmatic/spiritual/ emotional inspiration: echoing Medtner, ‘a composer’, he disappointed a reporter from the New York World-Telegram, ‘always has his own ideas of his works, but I do not believe he ever should reveal them. Each listener should find his own meaning in music’.

Compositionally, the two-piano version came first (completed 10 August 1940), the orchestration second (New York, 22 September–29 October)—which may help to explain, perhaps, why some ideas seem to function better pianistically than they do orchestrally.

Festive, grotesque, plaintive, uneasy, macabre, conquering—‘arguably the greatest work for the [two-piano] medium written in the twentieth century’ (Robert Matthew-Walker). The opening dance (C minor) is march-like, nostalgically looking back forty-five years to the First Symphony, with a central C sharp minor modal section of ‘simple tragedy’. The second movement (G minor) is a languorous waltz, concerned, Olin Downes imagined, with ‘sensuous melodies, sometimes bittersweet, sometimes to a Viennese lilt—and Vienna is gone’ (New York Times, 8 January 1941). ‘A lugubrious ennui shuffles through it, and Ravel, Richard Strauss and Sibelius join the dance in deep purple. The memories crowd in thick and fast’, thought another critic, Louis Biancolli (New York World-Telegram, same date). Malignant apparitions (the Dies irae plainchant: Death) finally overcome (the old Russian orthodox hymn, ‘Blessed be the Lord’: God’s victory) underline the third movement, a complex web of gigue rhythms, famously cross-accented (D major/D minor).

Rachmaninov’s record company was less enlightened than Medtner’s. When he proposed to record the Symphonic Dances and Second Suite with Horowitz, RCA rejected the project. Extraordinary.

from notes by Ates Orga © 1993

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