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Radio Romantica

mon 18 may 2020 12:00 

Symphony No. 2 in E minor Op. 27 by Sergei Rachmaninoff

This multifaceted and large-scale work is perhaps one of the last great Romantic symphonies. The piece premiered in St. Petersburg on 26 January 1908. It was immediately performed in Moscow, and Rachmaninoff took his 2nd Symphony on tour to the USA, where it premiered in Philadelphia in 1909. In 1910 two more performances followed in England.

What we have to keep in mind is the fact that, at the age of 35, Rachmaninoff was a well-known and celebrated composer and pianist who performed all through the wealthy music scene of pre-WOI Europe, from Dresden where he and his family had come to live in 1906. But the road to this beautiful life had not been easy. He stood at the edge of the abyss after the disappointing reception of his Symphony No. 1 in 1897. He was able to overcome the depression that followed with intensive hypnotherapy from the famous Dr. Nicolai Dahl. The result was Piano Concerto No. 2. A composition that immediately became a permanent fixture in his concert repertoire.

The same was also true for Symphony No. 2 a few years later. In all parts of the symphony we find a self-assured composer, who can do what he likes with the orchestra. A calm build-up from a few motifs is followed by an exuberant digression with widely spun out string melodies or wind passages. It’s famous for the ear caressing slow movement with its almost endless clarinet solo. Such a theme that makes you think: ‘I’ve heard that before’. From the very first performances several cuts were added to the work, which Rachmaninoff turned a blind eye to. In our time these cuts are no longer common.

In tonight’s episode you’ll hear the complete version, i.e. an hour of grandiose ‘Russian gloominess’, as Stravinsky used to say jokingly. It is almost undeniable that the score is interspersed with recurring motives of doom, a technique we know from Tchaikovsky. The music itself is generally exuberant and optimistic in tone. The endless lyrical prolongation of themes in this impressive score radiates confidence. Listen to the Symphony No. 2 in E minor from Sergei Rachmaninoff performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra led by Mariss Jansons.

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