Dvorak’s favourite student, friend and eventual son-in-law Josef Suk honed his string-writing skills during 40 years playing violin in the Czech Quartet. His Serenade is generously melodic, with a capriciously dance-like second movement and a third movement that features a reflective solo cello and some delicious harmonies. The final movement bustles cheerfully over chugging locomotive quavers.
Prokofiev caused a stir by winning the St Petersburg Conservatory’s piano competition playing his own concerto. The work opens dramatically, with piano and orchestra striving together in surging waves. Its percussive, playful piano lines with their startling leaps are instantly recognisable as Prokofiev’s style. The slow movement alternates between magical delicacy and sweeping tuttis. The wildly inventive finale is a cascade of notes accelerating to a triumphant return of the first theme.
Rachmaninoff’s mastery of orchestral colour gives this symphony a thrillingly cinematic sweep. Its opening snatch of what sounds like Russian Orthodox plainchant precedes an eruption of inventive music in which sweeping melodies contrast with elements of restlessness and doubt. A magical central movement grows from a luscious solo violin placed over a simple horn and harp accompaniment. Its romance is interrupted by a mercurial scherzo. The third movement is likewise full of unexpected interludes in different moods, dominated by a dance-like theme.