Dvořák wrote his lilting, graceful Serenade as he was becoming popular. It was an immediate hit. Each movement is a perfectly crafted musical snack, filled with delightful melodies, beginning with a happily pastoral first movement and ending with something like a lively Bohemian folk dance. The graceful Menuetto is one of Dvořák’s best-loved and most recognisable movements, while the slow movement is filled with passion and beauty.
Despite a late start to her musical life – she taught herself flute at the age of 15 – New York born Jennifer Higdon has gathered wide renown for her music. The first movement of this concerto, written for the violinist Hilary Hahn, carries the somewhat enigmatic title “1726” – the street number of the Curtis Institute, where soloist and composer first met. The second movement is a calm and pensive “Chaconni”. The third movement is called “Fly Forward”; Higdon found the title such a compelling image, “that I could not resist the idea of having the soloist do exactly that”.
The premiere of Rachmaninoff’s first symphony was almost the end of his career. The performance was a disaster; the conductor, Glazunov, was quite possibly drunk. The critic Cesar Cui savaged it. Rachmaninoff’s subsequent depression was serious. Luckily he didn’t burn the score: it is stuffed with musical riches right from its boldly brassy opening. There’s a hint of Tchaikovsky at his most Russian in the first clarinet melody, but immediately we also hear Rachmaninoff’s characteristic sweeping string lines. Throughout the symphony, Rachmaninoff alludes to the famous Dies Irae theme from Gregorian plainchant; it was a favourite motif that he would use in myriad forms throughout his life.