Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
Rachmaninoff was inspired by the same theme as Lutoslawski, turning it into a large,
ebullient work using his usual luxuriant orchestration. After a playful bustling introduction sketching the theme’s outlines, his 24 variations cover a tremendous range of moods from introspective to triumphantly romantic. The piano and the orchestra chase each other, reflect each other and support each other with inexhaustible invention. There’s plenty of room for piano fireworks, and Rachmaninoff even finds a way to weave in his favourite Dies Irae theme.
Lutoslawski took Paganini’s ever-popular 24th Caprice for solo violin and remodelled
it as a set of variations for two pianos, playing it in unofficial concerts in Warsaw
during the German occupation. The sheet music for this was his only piece from these two-piano concerts to survive the Warsaw Uprising. Later he created this lively acerbic version to show off the virtuosity of pianist Felicja Blumental.
Symphony No. 2
Brahms’ sunniest symphony was composed among the beautiful lakeside surroundings of the Austrian village of Pörtschach. Horns and woodwinds introduce a mellow opening theme after a three-note motif in the cellos that is cleverly woven throughout in various guises. Not all is sunshine; mournful trombones and timpani like distant thunder disturb the peace. The long cello melody in the second movement is beautifully heartbreaking; Brahms follows it with a quirky pastoral third movement led by the oboe. The ending builds to a glorious close.