Recorded on 08/07/1995, uploaded on 02/10/2009
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
Still a young composer in the Russian musical scene in the final years of the 19th century, Sergei Rachmaninoff found himself facing a looming personal financial crisis. Pressed for both time and money, in the fall of 1896 he threw himself into a feverish period of creativity that gave birth to the Moments musicaux, published as his opus 16. Despite the compressed time in which they were written—between October and December of that year—the six pieces of opus 16 are profoundly rich and complex works, certainly far removed in spirit from the intimate and charming works of the same title by Franz Schubert. In essence, they are a culmination of Rachmaninoff’s knowledge of the piano and mastery of its virtuosic treatment at the time of their composition.
The opening Andantino presents itself in the manner of a nocturne with a longing melody sounded over an accompaniment of triplets that immediately casts upon the piece a dim twilight setting. Elements of variation form are seen in the principal melody’s reshaping throughout the course of the piece, but it returns in its near original form during the coda to create a haunting conclusion. In sharp contrast to the lyrical Andantino, the Allegretto which follows is a brilliant piece reminiscent of the etudes of Frédéric Chopin. A constant torrent of sextuplets whirls about a stern and earnest melody. Only in the final measures does the tempest subside as the tempo slows to an Adagio and four resonant chords bring the piece to an end.
Creating yet another contrast, the third piece, an Andante cantabile, is a fusion of a song without words and a funeral march. The lugubrious melody sings from the rich middle register of the piano over a resonant and solemn bass. At its reprise, this melody is heard over a dramatic and terrifying staccato bass in octaves. The fourth piece, Presto, returns to the spirit of the Allegretto. A particularly demanding etude, it also betrays the influence of Chopin, most noticeably in the taxing accompaniment given to the left hand that will readily remind the listener of that composer’s Revolutionary Etude.
Of an entirely different character than the fiery Presto is the Adagio sostenuto that stands fifth in the cycle. A barcarolle, it is a gently lyrical piece devoid of the flamboyant gestures previously heard, and requiring a sensitivity of the performer, particularly in making the persistent accompaniment of triplets interesting and in placing proper emphasis on the correct notes in its chordal melody. Lastly, the Maestoso is perhaps the most difficult of the entire set, requiring great stamina and strength of the pianist to be rendered effectively. Its ardent melody, sounded in vast chords, brings the set to a colossal, if not triumphal, conclusion. Joseph DuBose
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