Prince Rostislav/Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)
August 14, 2011
Written when he was but eighteen years old, three months after he completed his “Youth Symphony” which he struggled with for a considerable period of time, “Prince Rostislav” was written in one week and spent the next fifty years unpublished and unperformed until two years after his death when it was premiered in 1945 along with “Youth Symphony” and “Scherzo in F Major.” What a treat it must have been to have attended a concert where not one but three newly discovered works were performed! Officially none were ever given opus numbers and may not have been up to his standards at the time but this work shows strong merit especially if one is interested in tone poems which this reviewer certainly is. It has all of the ingredients of a successful program work. It begins in a dark eerie fashion in a minor key with bass and cello with trombone motifs offering the first melody. This is quite a creepy beginning. The mood changes 180 degrees to a major offering from the oboe followed by the strings well supported by the woodwinds. This section is very uplifting and the melody from the strings flow nicely. Suddenly a loud timpani roll introduces a four note motif from the trombones three times not unlike Dies irae. As the idea for the poem was based on a Tolstoy ballad about the young Prince who was slain in battle and ended up in the waters of the Dnieper River the trombones are calling out but his cries aren’t heard. The pace is loud with frantic strings as if there were a storm building. The calm heard afterwards indicates he has accepted his fate. There is a brief return to the soothing theme from the oboe and the work ends on a return to the original theme from the trombone.
This piece deserves a place right next to “Tamara,” “The Tempest,” and other fine Russian tone poems. Not often performed this is an opportunity to take advantage of a fine reading of this work. One could easily mistake this for a Tchaikovsky work if you’re not familiar with the orchestrations of Rachmaninoff. The reading is definitely superior to my very old Vox recording (MWCD 7126) with Leonard Slatkin conducting the St. Louis Symphony. Noseda and the BBC Philharmonic offer a quicker pace (14:41 compared to 18:00) and the advantage of a superior digital recording from the Chandos engineers. There is a distinct improvement in the timpani, harp, and fullness from the strings. Keep in mind the Vox recording came from an analog recording from 1980. The Chandos recording is coupled with “Caprice bohemian” and “Symphony No. 3” making an attractive package.
Total Time is 14:41
Chandos CD# 10677
BBC Philharmonic conducted by Giandrea Noseda
Available as a download from Naxos classics, lossless download from Chandos, or a physical CD.