Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Rachmaninov in Glasgow 4 March 1935: the Recital Review

No sooner had I drawn a seeming blank on Rachmaninov’s appearance in Glasgow on 4th March 1935, than I found this review of the concert in the Glasgow Herald. I know that the Russian composer does not really fall into the remit of The Land of Lost Content British Music Blog, however I think it is such an important event that is is worth recording here. I do not believe that anyone else has written about this in recent years.  I have included the reviewer’s philosophical musings on the nature of piano recitals as I believe that his view is still relevant today. 

‘Rachmaninoff gave a piano recital in St. Andrew’s Hall last evening after an absence of many years [1] One-man recitals are in these days comparatively rare events, and the ramrkable enthusiasm aroused by Rachmaninoff and his playing last night suggests that a great pianist and a good programme still make a strong appeal. One wonders whether it would not have been worth to cultivate the piano recital on lines that would remove the objection sometimes made, that concert pianists in general are content to live their professional lives on a very restricted diet.
A study of concert programmes for, say, the last 20 years would show that the charge of lack of enterprise is not without foundation, and no one can suggest in defence that the piano repertoire is deficient in great music.
Last night’s programme combined some familiar numbers with others that were welcome because they are not so often to be heard under first class conditions. Beethoven supplied one of these signs of enterprising choice with an early Sonata – No.3 of Op.20 in D major. It is unfortunate for him that one of his piano sonatas is almost a necessity for candidates aiming at a diploma in piano playing, and the choice often falls on an early example. [2] The young people naturally feel inclined to look on Beethoven as one who makes their way troublesome, and many of them no doubt never quite forgive him, and put him aside with relief when the diploma arrives.
Yes, all the Op.10 sonatas are good, and No. 3 is the finest of them. The first movement is not more remarkable for its variety of vital interest than the second is for its rich and solemn beauty.  The Minuet and Trio has a special charm, and the Finale is not only humourous – it is sometimes even witty.  Op.10 No.3 is entitled to a place of its own among the Beethoven Sonatas. Rachmaninoff’s reading of it last night offered one of the most enjoyable things of the evening for he made poetry of it all and demonstrated the quality of his artistic service.
This may be defined as sensitive collaboration rather than attendance, and is only open to those who are respectfully imaginative. This power to interpret music personally, yet without injunction to the composer, distinguished all Rachmaninoff’s performance.
It was first displayed in Tausig’s transcription of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, and was strongly exemplified in Chopin’s ‘Funeral March’ Sonata [3] which in interpretation was held together with more success than usual, and was therefore particularly impressive.  An interesting selection of pieces by Scriabin, Medtner, Borodin, Rubenstein, Dohnanyi, and Rachmaninoff himself completed the programme. [4]
The Rachmaninoff group included a new work, ‘Oriental Sketch,’ [5] which exhibited in livelier style the composer’s known qualities.  Included in the group of extra numbera demanded by the audience was the famous Prelude, [6] whose real musical effect was, it is to be hoped, a corrective of the many wrong impression that countless arrangements of it must make.
The Glasgow Herald 5 March 1936 (with minor edits)

[1] According to The Rachmaninoff Performance Diary, the composer/pianist first appeared in Glasgow on 13 November 1929. The next recital was the one reviewed in this post.  He was to appear again on 18 March 1937 and on 2 March 1939.
[2] The Sonata Op.20 No.3 in D major is often regarded as Beethoven’s first truly virtuosic sonata. It was written some three years before the famous (and sometimes hackneyed) Pathétique.
[3] Frederic Chopin’s Piano Sonata No.2 in B flat minor Op. 35. The well-known ‘Funeral March’ was believed to have been composed in 1837, some two or so years before the entire Sonata was published in 1840.
[4] It is unfortunate that the reviewer does no give a complete listing of the pieces played by Sergei Rachmaninoff. However it is possible to reconstruct the concert from information provided by Scott Davie of the Rachmaninoff Society.
The Borodin would have been the ‘Scherzo’ in A flat major. At this time Rachmaninoff was playing a selection from Nicolai Medtner’s Fairy Tales.  Anton Rubenstein was most likely to have been the Barcarolle in A minor Op.45. Ernest von Dohnanyi Etude Caprice in F minor Op.28.  Scriabin was probably represented by his Poem in F sharp minor and the Étude in D sharp minor.  
[5] The Oriental Sketch was hardly new. It had been composed in 1917. However, it is unlikely to have been heard by British audiences.
[6] The ubiquitous Prelude in C# minor from the ‘Five Morceaux de Piano’, Op.3 (1892)


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this. Presumably Rachmaninov also appeared at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh on all four of those tour visits? I wonder if he ventured further north to Dundee or even Aberdeen on any of them, since those halls sometimes hosted artists on the Harold Holt circuit. But 1930s Glasgow must have been a good place to be for piano buffs, with such artists as Hofmann, Horowitz, Rubinstein, Rosenthal, Barer, Medtner and Backhaus all appearing in the St Andrew's Hall.

John France said...

Thnaks for that.
If you email me at
I will send you a list of his tours