Shirley Ratcliffe looks at a new festival
The South Bank Centre will mount the first major London festival of Rachmaninoff's
music on 6-23 May. Hidden Perspectives sets out to rediscover the
broad canon of the composer's work. Vladimir Ashkenazy has devised the three
Philharmonic Orchestra performances in cooperation with Amelia Freedman,
Head of Classical Music at the Royal Festival Hall, who has programmed a
complementary series of concerts.
Alongside familiar favourites watch out for The Bells - a choral
symphony - in the opening concert on the 6th, and The All-night Vigil
on the 7th; both works performed by the St Petersburg Chamber Choir.
The première of Tony Palmer's film Harvest
of Sorrow on the 9th will be followed by a forum chaired by Rachmaninoff
expert Geoffrey Norris with Palmer, Ashkenazy and Alexander Bazikov from
the Rachmaninoff Institute in Tambor.
The composer's first symphonic poem Prince Rostislav is programmed
with the 3rd Piano Concerto and 2nd Symphony on the 11th. Singers Sergei
Leiferkus and Marina Shaguch will perform Russian core repertoire on the
Catch Variations on a theme of Corelli played by pianist Nikolai
Lugansky (13th) and a recital for two pianos (Dmitri Alexeev and Nikolai
Demidenko) on the 23rd. Other performers during the festival include Evgeny
Kissin (17th), Mischa Maisky with Daria Hovora (14th) and the Florestan
Of particular interest is the first UK performance in ten years of the
opera Francesca da Rimini given in concert version on the 16th by
singers Shaguch, Teraschenko, Levinsky and Tumanyan, London Voices, and
the Philharmonia conducted by Ashkenazy.
The path of Rachmaninoff's third opera was not smooth. In 1898, Modest
Tchaikovsky (brother of the composer) was approached for a libretto based
on a 'Shakespearian subject'. He suggested an episode from Dante's Inferno
centred on the figures of Francesca and Paolo. Fortunately or perhaps
unfortunately the composer agreed.
After a lean period for composition Rachmaninoff made a start on the
opera in 1900, but it was not until 1904 that he 'got down to some serious
work' only to find problems with the libretto. Modest agreed to some changes
which the composer again felt essential.
His troubles were still not over! On completion of the short score and
the German translation in place, Modest insisted on further changes, which
Rachmaninoff resisted because they entailed alterations to the music. A
compromise was reached whereby the librettist's final version was separately
printed for insertion in the published score. The first performance took
place on 24 January 1906 in the Bolshoi Theatre as part of a double bill
with The Miserly Knight, also by Rachmaninoff.
Copyright © Shirley Ratcliffe, May