Rachmaninoff + Rachmaninoff
March 2-5 | 2017
Hans Graf conducts
Garrick Ohlsson piano
Piano Concerto No. 4
Symphony No. 1
Rachmaninoff's large and ambitious First Symphony incorporates music of the Russian Orthodox Church. Garrick Ohlsson's "rich and full*" playing unlocks the melancholy secrets of Rachmaninoff's Fourth Piano Concerto.
- The Dallas Symphony Sounded Like a Different Orchestra in Two Halves of an all-Rachmaninoff Concert
by Scott Cantrell, Dallas Morning News
By now, surely, there's no need to apologize for the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff. Argue, if you will, that it's succulent late romanticism past its sell-by date, but the best of it is gloriously melodic and sophisticated both harmonically and contrapuntally. The deservedly popular Second Symphony and Second and Third piano concertos are among the musical masterpieces of the 20th century.
This week's Dallas Symphony Orchestra concerts feature two of the composer's lesser-known works, the First Symphony and Fourth Piano Concerto. The guest conductor, a regular visitor here, is Hans Graf, who was music director of the Houston Symphony from 2001 to 2013. The pianist is the veteran virtuoso Garrick Ohlsson.
The symphony, completed when Rachmaninoff was only 22, was doomed by a disastrous first performance, in 1897. Poorly rehearsed and incompetently led by Alexander Glazunov, who may have been drunk, it got a particularly savage review from the composer Cesar Cui. Rachmaninoff shelved the score and slumped into three years of creative sterility, broken only by hypnotherapy. Not until 1944, the year after his death, were the score and parts rediscovered and given a second performance.
The symphony gives only isolated hints of the composer to come — certainly rhythmic gestures, especially, and motifs derived from the "Dies irae," the plainsong hymn of the Catholic mass for the dead. Amid muscular influences from Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakov, motivic repetitions lack the imagination of Rachmaninoff's more mature scores.
There's a big surprise in the finale, when after what feels like a typically explosive peroration the orchestra suddenly falls silent. An ominous gong sounds softly. Only now do we get the symphony's true coda, now darkly tragic.
Graf led a viscerally exciting, but lovingly detailed, performance of the symphony Thursday night. The orchestra played gloriously, and dramatic rests after fortissimo chords rang thrillingly in the Meyerson Symphony Center's prolonged but transparent reverberation.
- Rach This Way
by Gregory Sullivan Isaacs, Theater Jones
Dallas — The poster on the Meyerson Symphony Center door for Thursday’s Dallas Symphony concert offered “Rachmaninoff plus Rachmaninoff.” This combination drew a packed house. However, you can’t help but wonder if as big a crowd would have assembled if the poster also stated which of his pieces were on the program.
This is because the two selections are the composer’s least played works—his fourth piano concerto and first symphony—and not without reason. Both are works that gave the composer lots of trouble and frequent rewrites didn’t seem to fix the troubles.
We think of Rachmaninoff as a 20th century composer because he was alive until 1943. However, because of this heavy touring schedule as a pianist to make ends meet, most of his compositions (except for six) were written before he fled the Soviet Union in 1918. This is the source of his reputation of being a composer of old-fashioned over-ripe romanticism. (Remember that 1918 was the year that Gustav Holst’s The Planets premiered.)
Rachmaninoff completed his Symphony No. 1 in 1894. This was the year that Massenet’s very romantic opera, Werther, premiered. In fact, it was critiqued as being shockingly revolutionary by going against the notion of what a symphony should be. Perhaps this was because the premiere was an unqualified disaster.
However, listening to the superb performance delivered by the Dallas Symphony under the inspired conducting of Hans Graf, this symphony fails to impress. For one thing, it lacks an earworm, a glorious and memorable melody. That is the hallmark of the composer’s most popular output. However craftfully his material is worked out, in the end, its banality is its undoing. That aside, Graf and the DSO gave the symphony an exceptionally fine reading, one that makes a good case for more frequent performances.