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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Discovering Rachmaninoff

Edo de Waart guides MSO with insight and transparency

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What I like best about Edo de Waart is that he is not an imposing interpreter. Some conductors’ personalities ultimately seem as important as the composer of the work performed. This is not De Waart’s approach, which in my opinion makes him one of the best “interpreters.” Under his guidance, more often than not, the content of the score emerges without unnecessary fuss and added extraneous ideas. This requires an extraordinarily insightful musician.

I marvel when De Waart conducts a large romantic work, such as Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 3, heard last weekend at Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. The long-lined architecture of the score comes through, and also the details are defined with exactness and transparency. Late Rachmaninoff works still carry his unmistakable style, but are less cathartic than his early and middle works. There is almost an impressionistic quality to the late music, and a preoccupation with the colors of the sound. The orchestra sounded at its peak on Saturday evening. Beautifully played flute and oboe solos were notable throughout the concert.

Another late work came in Concerto No. 4, composed in 1926 but revised until the final version of 1941. The terrific pianist Joyce Yang returned in the last of her cycle of the composer’s concertos with MSO and De Waart. If this concerto had been written by any other composer, it would be more present in the repertoire. Rachmaninoff’s Concertos No. 2 and 3 overshadow Concerto No. 4, a more intricate and sunnier piece, less heroic though no less brilliant. Yang was brilliant performing it, with poetic and sensitive playing full of thrilling rhythmic precision.

If someone had played for me the short tone poem Prince Rostislav, I doubt I would ever have guessed it was composed by Rachmaninoff. Composed at age 18, it borrows heavily from Russian traditions. Echoes of Tchaikovsky, Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov and their ilk abound. In a composer so young I can forgive the melodramatic, stormy build up to a gong blow, a corny compositional device. But it’s an interesting, brooding good piece, and in its way, a wonderful discovery.