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Satirino records · Rachmaninov - Moments musicaux

Transcription from J. S. Bach’s Partita N° 3 in E major for unaccompanied violin BWV 1006
Moments Musicaux, opus 16
'Lullaby' - Transcription from Tchaikovsky’s Lullaby, N°1 of Six Songs, opus 16
'Lilacs' - Transcription of N°5 of Twelve Songs, opus 2
Variations on a Theme of Corelli, opus 42

Elena Rozanova    piano

Satirino records SR062 - released on 5th May 2006

Recorded at 
Tibor Varga Studio, Sion, Switzerland, June 2005
Joël Jobé
Sound engineer, producer, editing, mastering
Frédéric Briant, Musica Numeris
le monde est petit
Schoolchildren Cross-Country Ski on the Frozen Tura River, Siberia © Dean Conger / CORBIS. Elena Rozanova - Eric Manas

Press Reviews

‘Mystery, lyricism, wild virtuosity, it's all there, even a hitherto to us unknown facet to this composer: overflowing sensuality, a gasp of abandonment sometimes to be mistaken for the shadow of a glance… Certainly one of the most beautiful piano CDs of the year.’
www.arte.tv - Mathias Heizmann
‘Following her sensational appearance in La Roque d'Anthéron piano Festival in 2003... Elena Rozanova offers up a remarkable Rachmaninoff programme...Rozanova’s playing is as expressive as it is technically mastered. This is an artist to be watched closely!’
Le Monde de la Musique - John Tyler Tuttle
'... These are impressive performances... Even when Rachmaninoff's technical gauntlet is thrown down at its most demanding, Rozanova's response is one of exceptional composure and confidence: the torrent of notes unleashed in the fourth Moment musical is thrilling - passionate but controlled and never gratuitous... Elena Rozanova is a musician at the service of the composer and is further blessed with personality, class and insight. It's a heady and judicious mix, and makes one keen to hear more of her.'
Colin Anderson, International Piano Magazine, June 2006

Liner Note

Unlike his achievements as a pianist and conductor, Rachmaninov’s reputation as a composer has tended to fluctuate. No matter what the current critical fashion may be, or however radically assessments of society and art change their perspectives, Rachmaninov’s position as a composer of major significance always seems to have a question mark hanging over it. There can be no doubt that his own phenomenal abilities as a performer influenced the technical features of his compositional style – this is particularly evident in his orchestral music after 1910, when his activities as a conductor intensified, but they were always a substantial formative influence on the characteristics of his piano music. This is admirably illustrated by the original works featured on this recording, despite their being composed at either end of his career and differing in many of their fundamental attitudes.

The influence of Rachmaninov’s technical capabilities as shown in his own music is even more recognisable in his transcriptions of works by other composers, where the original composers’ thoughts are subjected to both practical and creative judgements in accordance with Rachmaninov’s own sensibilities. We are fortunate to have been left such a diverse selection of his arrangements of works by other composers, in addition to those made of his own works, providing revealing insights into the interplay of his technical abilities and his artistic perceptions.

Foremost amongst these transcriptions must surely be the suite of three movements from J. S. Bach’s Partita No. III in E major for unaccompanied violin – the Preludio, Gavotte en Rondeau and Gigue. In comparison to the complete transcription for harpsichord by Bach himself, and the partial transcription by Saint-Saëns for piano, Rachmaninov’s version is very liberal in many respects – a freedom not to everyone’s taste. Whilst drawing out the contrapuntal implications of the original voice, a great deal of additional counterpoint and chromaticism is used to enrich the texture; the manner of this expansion frequently lends a recognisably Rachmaninovian quality to the music, for example towards the end of the Preludio. Originally prepared in 1933 during Rachmaninov’s lengthy exile in America – a period in which his activities as a composer were almost entirely curtailed by the demands of his career as a touring virtuoso – only the Preludio was initially published and performed. At that point he was evidently dissatisfied with the Gavotte and Gigue, and the suite as a whole was not finally published until 1941.

Long before the period of exile imposed by the explosive political events in Russia of 1917, Rachmaninov had been the rising star of Moscow’s musical circles and his Six Moments musicaux pour Piano (op.16) date from those early days. They were, in fact, composed in 1896 whilst awaiting the premiere of his first symphony, and can thus be seen to belong to his early period as a composer, so dramatically brought to a close by the symphony’s abject failure at its first performance. The impact of this event has been well-documented, but there remains some dispute as to its ultimate aesthetic effects. It is sometimes claimed that Rachmaninov’s most strikingly original qualities were irreversibly stunted by the trauma of his first symphony’s failure – a view seemingly endorsed by Rachmaninov himself according to his one-time muse, the Armenian poet Marietta Shaginian. The Moments, therefore, in many respects represent the qualities associated with his earliest work in general and his first symphony in particular. There are numerous passages of intense lyricism (N°s 1 & 5) and likewise of unbridled bombast and emphatic assertion (N°s 2, 4 & 6), but with a tendency towards rather obsessive repetition (N°s 4 & 6) and diffuse form (N°s 1 & 3). The extravagant virtuosity and complex textures of his piano-writing were nevertheless to persist in much of Rachmaninov’s music until rather later in his career.

Rachmaninov’s last transcription, indeed his very last musical work, was of Tchaikovsky’s Lullaby (no.1 of Six Songs, op.16). The connection between the two great figures is a profound one, certainly from Rachmaninov’s point of view. A hero to the younger generation of composers, Tchaikovsky’s influence and advice had been crucial to Rachmaninov in the early stages of his career. Indeed, Tchaikovsky had intended to champion the work of his younger colleague on a forthcoming European tour, but was prevented by his untimely death – an event which prompted Rachmaninov to write his Trio élégiaque (op.9), dedicated ‘to the memory of a great artist’. There is poignancy in the fact that Rachmaninov, having attempted a reduction of the Manfred Symphony of his own accord as a 13 year-old, should receive as his very first commission in 1890 a request for a piano transcription of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty (a rather unsuccessful venture), and that his last efforts in 1941 should also be in the service of his mentor.

Despite his substantial output of songs, Rachmaninov transcribed only two for piano solo. Lilacs in its original form is no.5 of Twelve Songs, (op.21) and dates from 1902, well into the composer’s creative re-birth after the apathy and inactivity that followed his first symphony’s disastrous premiere. Works from this period include the Second Suite for Two Pianos (op.17), the Second Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (op.18), and the Sonata for Piano and Violoncello (op.19), revealing a composer in full possession of his creative abilities. A romantic counterpoint to the critical and commercial success Rachmaninov enjoyed at this time was his marriage to his cousin Natalya Satina in April 1902 – the month in which he composed Lilacs. Less romantically, the wedding had to take place in an army barracks, because the couple were not only sporadic in their church attendance but also first cousins, and under the canon law of the Russian Orthodox church, such marriages were not allowed. However, by special arrangement the ceremony was conducted in an army chapel, where the priests were answerable to the military authorities and not to the Orthodox synod! The transcription of Lilacs dates from 1914.

The Variations on a Theme of Corelli, (op.42, 1931) was Rachmaninov’s last original work for solo piano, and in fact his only such work after leaving Russia in 1917. His musical and technical sensibilities altered substantially during his time in exile, as can be seen here in the clearer, sparser textures and the elimination of unnecessary decorative or excessively dense contrapuntal detail. In the same year he also substantially revised his Piano Sonata No.2 (op.36), with similar intent – needless to say, in neither case is the result anything other than hugely demanding for the pianist. Often seen as preparatory for the celebrated Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, (op.43 of 1934), the Corelli variations are a substantial achievement in themselves and occupy a unique position in Rachmaninov’s output. Elsewhere in his work there is rarely such a sense of objectivity, of restraint – qualities that can prove deeply expressive when concealed sensibilities emerge in spite of themselves. Thus, from within the parameters set by the baroque theme itself, a rich, darkly portentous and ambivalent character emerges. Structurally, the formal scheme both looks back to the Variations on a Theme of Chopin, (op.22) and forward to the Paganini Rhapsody in its adoption of a basic tripartite structure. The opening ‘movement’ consists of the D minor theme followed by variations 1-13; this section itself subdivides into three – variations 1-4 being relatively restrained, 5-7 being rather more vital rhythmically and 8-13 building to a sense of climax from Adagio misterioso to Agitato. After a virtuoso Intermezzo, the slow movement begins in D flat with a restatement of the theme in the major (var.14) and the central point of repose (var.15). Variations 16-20 return to D minor and comprise the finale and ultimate climax to the work, followed by a highly effective and rather disturbing apotheosis in the form of a coda. A continuing lack of confidence and sensitivity to criticism seemingly resulted in Rachmaninov’s allowing the published score to indicate the optional omission of any or all of variations 11, 12 and 19. Indeed, he even resorted in performance to omitting arbitrarily an indefinite number of variations in response to coughing in the audience, so determined was he not to bore his listeners.

Simon Clarke, March 2006

Track list

Transcription from J. S. Bach’s Partita N° 3 in E major for unaccompanied violin BWV 1006  

1 - Preludio [3’41]
2 - Gavotte [3’28]
3 - Gigue [1’52]

Moments Musicaux, opus 16 

4 - I Andantino [8’39]
5 - II Allegretto [3’57]
6 - III Andante Cantabile [5’15]

7 - IV Presto [3’43]
8 - V Adagio sostenuto [4’38]
9 - VI Maestoso [5’52]

10 - 'Lullaby' - Transcription from Tchaikovsky’s Lullaby, N°1 of Six Songs, opus 16 [3’15]

11 - 'Lilacs' - Transcription of N°5 of Twelve Songs, opus 2 [6’07]

12 - Variations on a Theme of Corelli, opus 42 [19’52]

Total CD = 70’26