Movement 1: Non allegro – Lento – Tempo 1
Movement 1: Non allegro – Lento – Tempo I
Movement 2: Andante con moto: Tempo di valse
Movement 3: Lento assai – Allegro vivace – Lento assai – Allegro vivace
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