Bernd Glemser’s career is a series of superlatives: he won a total of 17 com-petitions and special prizes in a row (including the Busoni, Callas, Cortot, Rubinstein, Sidney, Tschaikovsky competitions and finally, the renowned International ARD Music Competition). In 1989, when he was still a student in Freiburg, Southern Germany, he was appointed Germany’s youngest profes-sor of piano at the Academy of Music in Saarbrücken. He has released no fewer than 30 CD productions. Now, Bernd Glemser has signed an exclusive contract with OehmsClassics. He begins his recording activities for his new label with a program of works by Rachmaninoff. Glemser illuminates three of the composer’s creative phases by performing a central work from each: the Morceaux de Fantaisie op. 3 from 1892, the Second Piano Sonata from 1913 and the Variations on a Theme by Corelli op. 42 from 1931.Suppleness, a sunburst of color and richness of sound –
Sergei Rachmaninov’s piano works
A historic event divided Rachmaninov’s life into two halves: the Russian Revolution.
The first half was the time in which Rachmaninov wrote most of his works and had his greatest success as a conductor of orchestral works and opera. After the October Revolution in 1917, however, he was banned from his beloved homeland for the rest of his life. During his remaining
25 years, he only finished – except for transcriptions – five new compositions and turned to a new career as a piano virtuoso. But from Rachmaninov’s letters and personal
reminiscences, we find out that the success of his compositions was far more important to him than the euphoric applause
he received as a performer.
There were many significant way-stations
in the development of the artist, born March 20, 1873 (April 1 in the Gregorian calendar) on the Semyonovo estate in the Novgorod District: a restless childhood characterized by increasing financial hardship and finally the separation of his parents, his failed study at the St. Petersburg
Conservatory (due to a constitutional weakness), his subsequent work with strict Moscow piano teacher Nikolai Tsverev, finally,
his attendance at the Moscow Conservatory,
where Rachmaninov was able to develop his compositional as well as his pianistic talents. In 1893 he became a piano teacher and in 1897 the conductor of a private opera company. From 1904 to 1906 he worked as kapellmeister at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater. The years between 1906 and 1909, which he spent primarily in Dresden
together with his family, were his most creative and productive period. After his first tour of the US in 1909/1910, Rachmaninov
returned to Moscow. As a result of the breakdown of Czarist Russia, he chose exile,
first moving to Paris, but later spending his time between Lake Lucerne and New
York. He died on March 28, 1943 in Beverly Hills, California, only several days before his 70th birthday.
Rachmaninov’s late style – as represented
by the Variations on a Theme by Corelli, op. 42 – have a certain classicism to it. The theme of this cycle is not from Arcangelo Corelli (1653–1713), but is an old Spanish-French folk dance that the Italian composer took for his own use. Rachmaninov began the 20 variations, including intermezzo and coda, in May 1931 and completed them several
The characters in the variations are much more finely chiseled, more modern and also more brittle than the musical language
of the Sonata No. 2. The emphasis lies on contrast and clearly anticipates op. 43, the Rhapsody on a Theme from Paganini.
The tripartite Corelli Variations – that contain similarities to sonata-form – have a wistfulness about them; did the emigrant sense that he would never return to Russia again?
Although many of Rachmaninov’s piano works became immediately popular, for example
the 2nd Piano Concerto or the C-sharp Minor Prelude from the Morceaux de fantaisie
– this was not really true of the Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor. The composer began working on this piece in early 1913 in Rome, finishing it later that year in Russia. A network of themes and motivic work links the individual sections and makes the piece one of the most dense in Rachmaninov’s oeuvre. The sonata lives from developments, musical
processes, ascending and descending sensations. A romantic, dramatic, even passionate
and martial attitude is present in it. Bell-motives and barcaroles are combined in exceptionally complex polyphony and virtuosic writing. The piece also makes the highest demands on the interpreter and the instrument in terms of musicality and color. It is a work that manifests Rachmaninov at his greatest.
Even the earliest fantasies show insights into the virtuosity and ambitions of the young musician in the area of piano composition.
The five Morceaux de fantaisie op. 3 were written in fall 1892, when Rachmaninov
was 19 years old and had just completed
his studies at the Moscow Conservatory. They already demonstrate his pronounced individual musical language, but still rely firmly on the idea of the highly romantic character piece of a Chopin or Schumann.
Except for the previously mentioned Prélude in C-sharp Minor, the second of these pieces, opus 3 consists of the pieces Elégie, Mélodie, Polichinelle (clown) und Sérénade. The character of each of these pieces is alluded to by its title, although many think that Rachmaninov’s feeling for drama and melancholy is the most impressive
in the second piece.
In 1940, the composer revised his Mélodie
in E Major and Sérenade in B-flat Minor. This recording contains both versions, however!
A comparison of both transcriptions demonstrates the amazing transformation in the composer’s style: the later versions are more refined, interwoven, polyphonic, use more modern harmonies and have sharper characterizations and contrasts.
Rachmaninov’s position as the last important
representative of the Russian late-romantic school – as well as a precursor of Prokofieff and Shostakovitch – becomes audible.
Translation: Elizabeth Gahbler