Friday, 15 June 2012

Sergei Rachmaninoff: Review of the 14 November 1929 Recital in Glasgow

I cannot resist posting the review of the first recital given in Glasgow by Sergei Rachmaninoff. It will be the last of the non-British contributions to this blog –at least for a wee while.

The second of the Glasgow series of ‘Celebrity’ concerts, given last evening in St Andrew’s Hall, brought Rachmaninoff to the city in a piano recital.  By virtue of his famous Prelude in C sharp minor he may safely be claimed as the greatest international celebrity of them all. There must be very few, if any, followers of music in the world, even among those who follow music afar off, who do not know his name and at least one of his compositions.  As a pianist he has also been widely known for many years to the gramophone public through his records, which have always shown distinction in both performance and reproduction.  A piano recital by him was therefore an important event.
He presented a very unconventional programme, the more serious items of which were Beethoven’s F sharp major sonata, Op.78, the last of Schumann’s ‘Noveletten’ and three pieces by Medtner, ‘In Praise of Toil’ [1]. The remaining items were light numbers, either original or transcriptions; and the evening has left the impression of a fine pianist and musician too much employed in pianistic display to the neglect of more important matters.
Even on big item of deep musical significance would have added tremendously to the importance of the occasion. 

The inclusion of the Beethoven sonata, one almost never heard in public, was something to be grateful for. It is one of the most happy and intimately beautiful of all the sonatas, and the subtleties of touch and delicacy of finish with which it was played made it a specially enjoyable. The Schumann ‘Novelette’ also had an excellent performance, finely coloured and with a delightful effect made by the delicate crispness of some of the quiet sections. But some item of the importance of the C Major ‘Fantasia’ would have been welcome in its place.
The Medtner numbers were interesting, especially the first two, ‘Before work’ and ‘At the anvil,’ but this fine composer could have been better represented.
Tchaikovsky was not at his best in his music for piano, and the Variations from Op.19 were only mildly interesting. There was group of three Schubert transcriptions – ‘Le Ruisseau’ (more readily identified for identified, perhaps as ‘Wohin?’) arranged by Rachmaninoff very cleverly, but suggesting that the brook had overflowed its banks; the ‘Ave Maria’ arranged by Liszt, and making one think of the opera-house; and Tausig’s brilliant transcription of the ‘Marche Militaire’, the most legitimate of the three, but not any more thrilling last evening than a really good performance of Schubert’s own duet version would have been. A transcription by Rachmaninoff of Kreisler’s well-known ‘Liebesfreud’ concluded the programme. Here again the interest was in the playing rather than the music, for most of the joy had been lost in the process of arranging and replaced by a sense of difficulties overcome.
Two compositions by Rachmaninoff, a ‘Barcarolle’ in G minor, Op.10 and a ‘Moment Musicale’, Op.16 were also played. While pianistically effective, these numbers were not distinguished in melody, and they suggested a pianist-composer rather than a composer-pianist. The famous Prelude [in C#minor] was given as the second extra, and the opening phrase was interrupted by an outbreak of applause. It was beautifully played, providing in particular an excellent study in tone gradations, and the audience enjoyed the rare privilege of hearing the piece as it ought to sound. It is a hard fate that has made this genuinely romantic and well-written number the most hackneyed musical item of our generation.
The Glasgow Herald 14 November 1929 (with minor edits) 

[1] Nicolai Medtner: Three Hymns in ‘Praise of Toil’ Op. 49. These pieces were composed between 1926 and 1928. The third pieces was entitled ‘After Work’. 

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