Monday, November 27, 2017

The Rachmaninoff Second Sonata - A Story Worth Telling...

How often do we hear of a composer giving permission to another musician to alter the music in order to further project the original ideas without destroying those ideas?
That, seemingly, is what Rachmaninoff engendered when he asked the legendary virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz to do just that.
To make it brief: Rachmaninoff wrote the sonata in 1913, then in 1931 revised it, by both shortening it,  then making  some of the passages somewhat less difficult. These two actions seem to verify the composer's assertion that the sonata was, in its original form, both  unnecessarily  difficult at times  and consequently a bit more complicated, textually, than it needed to be. He himself voiced some discomfort with the music from time to time, until he set about enacting his 1931 version. Around 1940, for reasons I cannot conjure,  he approached Horowitz about further revision, which resulted in a yet further journey into the core of the sonata. The recording of the Horowitz version is available, and the results are brilliant and provocative, giving us a view of yet another side of the Horowitz mystique - his view of the sonata, it seems to me, preserves the original intent of the 1913 version. Even more fascinating is the fact that as Horowitz performed this piece, he would alter some areas in a form of extemporization whenever he would present it, creating a kind of improvisation without obscuring the composer's original intentions each time it was performed.
So; how often can we witness the process described above, all during the life of the composer?
I find myself summoning at least one reason why Rachmaninoff may have chosen to revise, then discuss with Horowitz  the issue of yet  another creation of a view of the piece: the second movement, to me, is redolent with harmonic ideas that sound almost as if Rachmaninoff jotted them down, then decided which ones to inculcate. We know that Haydn, centuries before, did precisely the same thing, probably more with melodic, rather than harmonic ideas.  One can, at best,  only speculate...
By the way, I have finally(!) come to the conclusion that there IS greatness in the playing of  Yuja Wang. Her reading of the second movement of this sonata moved me deeply - her  contact with the core values of the composer are, for me, alive with a kind of meaning that I hear so seldom today.
What do you think? Listen to Horowitz and Wang - it's not so much a matter of comparison. For me, it's Apples and Oranges of equal beauty and color.            

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