Youth Symphony in D Minor/Rachmaninoff

August 16, 2010

Having completed his first piano concerto in 1891 Rachmaninoff turned his thoughts to doing a symphony and the results were throwing away more than he kept and sheer torture as he wrote to his friend Mikhail Akimovich Slonov. What he completed in roughly three months was an 11+ minute movement in D Minor which was not published or performed until 1945. Perhaps Sergei considered it nothing more than an exercise in writing and he labeled it his Youth Symphony choosing not to give it an opus number.

The work begins in a very ominous dark fashion (grave) with lower register strings and horns but this is but an introduction to an allegro moderato where the main theme is introduced and nicely developed. He switches between a sense of urgency and bright and uplifting making good use of the flute and clarinet. The ending is rather abrupt and on the first listen caught me completely by surprise. One could surmise that Rachmaninoff just got to this point and decided to end it rather than continue to develop and work on it any further.

While this is a lesser known and seldom performed work this reviewer feels it deserves a little more attention than it receives. It is certainly not a work that will leave a lasting impression to where you’ll want to revisit it on a regular basis. However it does show us the talent that Rachmaninoff had at such an early age and is far better than some other first attempts I’ve listened to. If you are into collecting his orchestral works this is one to consider. The Scherzo in F Major, a very early work, is a bonus and one seldom if ever performed. The Vox recordings are usually available at a reasonable price.

The Hughes reading with the Scottish National Orchestra is a strong one with the advantage of newer recording techniques. The pace is a bit slower perhaps too much so but this is solely a matter of opinion and some prefer it. The BIS engineers produce a strong recording and if one were interested in his third symphony this would be a fine choice as the third symphony is given a superb performance. This recording is also available as a download from Classicsonline, the Naxos website.

Noseda has the BBC in top form in a near perfect reading and the Chandos engineers don’t disappoint. The pace is nearly five minutes faster than the BIS recording (10 as opposed to 15 minutes) yet I didn’t feel that it was hurried at all. Coupled with Isle of the Dead and his First Symphony this is a nice package. It is available from Classicsonline as a download, the Naxos website.

Discography of Reviewed Recordings:

1….Leonard Slatkin conducts the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra (Vox MWCD 7130)Also includes Piano Concerto No. 3 and Scherzo in F Major AAD recording from 1987.

2….Owain Arwel Hughes conducts the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (BIS 1299)Also includes Symphony No. 3 and Vocalise DDD recording from 2002.

3….Gianandrea Noseda conducts the BBC Philharmonic (Chandos 10475) Also includes Isle of the Dead and Symphony No. 1 DDD recording from 2008

One Response to “Youth Symphony in D Minor/Rachmaninoff”

  1. Stephen J. Levine, MD Says:

    What I find fascinating about the Youth Symphony is that it follows the structure of the first movement of Tchaikowsky’s Fourth Symphony almost to a T. That Symphony is also in D Minor. As such, it is reminiscent of the copying by Fine Arts students of the well known works of Art as part of their training (or, for that matter, my copying of others’ code as part of my process of learning a new computer language). I am thus not surprised that Rachmaninoff did the exercise of writing the work. While I found that the close following of T’s fourth Symphony was initially distracting, I now have come to enjoy the work in its own right. And I vehemently disagree that the ending is sudden. It is no more sudden than the ending of its prototype.

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