This week the classical music choice is the sublime third movement of Rachmaninov’s Symphony No 2 Op 27.
Sergey Rachmaninov (1873-1943) was a Russian pianist, composer, and conductor, some of whose works are among the most popular in the Romantic repertoire. Stravinsky summarised him thus: ‘Rachmaninov’s immortalising totality was his scowl. He was a six-and-a-half-foot-tall scowl . . . he was an awesome man.’
Rachmaninov spent much of his time outside Russia and moved to New York in 1918. His later years were dominated by performing engagements, with little time to spare for composing.
His first symphony was a spectacular failure. The conductor of the arrived at the podium tanked up on vodka and was a disaster.
This Symphony No 2 came twelve years later, and the third movement, Adagio, is one of the greatest symphonic movements in Russian music. A song for orchestra, some believe this movement becomes perilously sentimental in places, but as one commentator said, ‘its lush harmony and exquisite orchestration are so genuinely felt that you’ll forgive any excesses.’ I certainly do.