Day 15 – Runbinstein Rhapsody…Paganini (CD 15)

Arthur Rubinstein could play chopsticks and I’d sit up and take notice.

I’ve developed a keen interest in Rachmaninoff thanks to this set of Fritz Reiner CDs. I never gave the Russian composer a second thought prior to this. But now I’m intrigued, hooked by Rachmaninoff’s ability to write multi-layered music, usually featuring complex piano compositions and powerfully moving melodies.

For example: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Variation XVIII. It was used as the emotional centerpiece of the 1980 film Somewhere in Time, starring Christopher Reeve, Jane Seymour, and Christopher Plummer.

I’d be hard-pressed to name a piece of music with a more heart-rending melody. It was perfect for Somewhere in Time because it’s a deeply moving movie, anyway. But adding that theme to its soundtrack lifts the film to another level.

There are two pieces of music on this CD.

The Objective Stuff

From its entry on Wikipedia,

The Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43, is a concertante work written by Sergei Rachmaninoff for piano and orchestra, closely resembling a piano concerto, all in a single movement. Rachmaninoff wrote the work at his summer home, the Villa Senar in Switzerland, according to the score, from 3 July to 18 August 1934. Rachmaninoff himself, a noted interpreter of his own works, played the piano part at the piece’s premiere on 7 November 1934, at the Lyric Opera House in Baltimore, Maryland, with the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski. Rachmaninoff, Stokowski, and the Philadelphia Orchestra made the first recording, on 24 December 1934, at RCA Victor’s Trinity Church Studio in Camden, New Jersey. The English premiere on 7 March 1935 at Manchester Free Trade Hall also featured Rachmaninoff with The Hallé under Nikolai Malko.

This was recorded on January 16, 1956, in Orchestra Hall. Fritz Reiner conducted. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra played. Reiner was 68.

From his entry on Wikipedia,

Enrique Jordá (March 24, 1911 – March 18, 1996) was a Spanish-American conductor. Born in San Sebastián (Guipúzcoa, Spain), later on he was a naturalized US citizen.

After conducting in Madrid, Cape Town and Antwerp, he was music director of the San Francisco Symphony from 1954 to 1963. He made several stereophonic recordings in San Francisco for RCA Victor in 1957 and 1958. He made several highly acclaimed recordings for Decca in the late 1940s and early 1950s of Spanish music with the London Symphony Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra and Paris Conservatoire Orchestra, including two recordings of Nights in The Gardens of Spain with Clifford Curzon as soloist. Several of these have been reissued on the Dutton label.

During his tenure in San Francisco he gave the world premiere of Joaquin Rodrigo’s Fantasia para un Gentilhombre with Andrés Segovia as the soloist.

From its entry on Wikipedia,

Nights in the Gardens of Spain, G. 49, is a piece of music by the Spanish composer Manuel de Falla. Falla was Andalusian and the work refers to the Hispano-Arabic past of this region (Al-Andalus).

Falla began this work as a set of nocturnes for solo piano in 1909, but on the suggestion of the pianist Ricardo Viñes he turned the nocturnes into a piece for piano and orchestra. Falla completed it in 1915 and dedicated it to Viñes. However the pianist at the first performance was neither Viñes nor Falla (who was a skilled pianist), but José Cubiles. The first performance was given on April 9, 1916, at Madrid’s Teatro Real, with the Orquesta Sinfónica de Madrid conducted by Enrique Fernández Arbós.

Viñes first played the work in its San Sebastián premiere, shortly after the world premiere, with the same orchestra. Arthur Rubinstein was in the audience that night, and he introduced the work to Buenos Aires. The Paris premiere took place in January 1920, with the pianist Joaquín Nin playing under Fernández Arbós. The composer himself was the soloist at the London premiere in 1921, at a Queen’s Hall concert under the baton of Edward Clark

This was recorded on March 25, 1957. Enrique Jorda conducted. He was 46. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra played.

The Subjective Stuff

Recording quality: 4 (Paganini) / 3 (Gardens)
Overall musicianship: 5 (Paganini) / 4 (Gardens)
CD booklet notes: 2
CD “album cover” information: 3
How does this make me feel: 5 (Paganini) / 3 (Gardens)

It’s impossible not to like Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody, especially the haunting melody of Variation XVIII (the Somewhere in Time theme). It’s gorgeous. But all of these variations are engaging. And then there’s Rubinstein, who is always a treat.

Nights in the Garden of Spain, on the other hand, doesn’t sound as though it was recorded as well. It’s a little less crisp. A bit fatter in the midrange.

And I just can’t get into it. Even if it were as crisp as a new $20 bill, it still doesn’t move me.

I was going to quote from Kenneth Morgan’s book Fritz Reiner Maestro and Martinent, but I couldn’t find a reference to conductor Enrique Jorda.

If that book is ever reprinted, I hope Mr. Morgan adds the capability to cross references by composition. As it’s designed now, it’s a challenge to find comments about a specific performance. For example, I can’t look up, say, Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and turn to a page that mentions it. I have to try to look it up by composer. But even that doesn’t always list his composition, just every reference where the composer was mentioned. So I have to look through a lot of pages to find any reference to what I’m listening to.

In the case of Nights in the Gardens of Spain, there’s no reference at all to that performance by name of composition, conductor name, or composer name. It’s like today’s performance never happened.

Fritz Reiner Maestro and Martinet would be a more user-friendly book – especially for people like me who want to know what the Maestro thought of a particular performance – if it was also cross referenced by composition.

Just a suggestion.

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