Friday 20 April

Nathalie Stutzmann conducts Rachmaninov & Brahms

RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra

Time 7:30pm
National Concert Hall Dublin

Tickets: from €15

  • Nathalie Stutzmann 
  • Vyacheslav Gryaznov
  • Rachmaninov
    Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor / 33’
  • Brahms
    Symphony No. 1 in C minor / 45’

SOUNDINGS 6.30pm Pianist Vyacheslav Gryaznov in conversation

Principal Guest Conductor Nathalie Stutzmann takes on two brilliant orchestral masterpieces: Rachmaninoff’s pulsing, passionate and powerful Second Piano Concerto (heard to indelible effect in David Lean’s seminal 1945 film, Brief Encounter) and Brahms’s characterful First Symphony, which offered the 19th-century symphony a new beginning after the Olympian dominance of Beethoven.

Composed at the very beginning of the last century, Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto is so packed with emotion and stuffed with memorable melodies and rich, effusive harmonies that it has been borrowed countless times in film, television and popular music to provide romantic credentials of impeccable and irresistible force.

Most notable was the extensive use director David Lean made of its in Brief Encounter. Its keening themes also provide the source for Frank Sinatra’s early hit Full Moon and Empty Arms and Eric Carmen’s lachrymose 1970s’ ballad All By Myself.

For Rachmaninoff, it must have seemed like a poetic exercise in catharsis. After the failure of his First Symphony in 1897 and various traumas in his private life, he stopped composing. A course of hypnotherapy helped lift his depression and the Second Piano Concerto – dedicated to his doctor – ended his compositional drought.

Lush and luxuriant, it balances pathos and passion, hurt and hope with enormous élan in virtuosic music for both piano and orchestra. The result is a graceful pas de deux between soloist and orchestra that flexes its heavy Russian soul in some of the most immediately unforgettable music in the entire piano literature.

The shadow of Beethoven’s mighty Ninth Symphony cast a long and imposing shadow on Brahms’s ambition to compose his own first work in the form. ‘You will never know,’ he ruefully remarked, ‘how the likes of us feel when we hear the tramp of a giant like Beethoven behind us’.

He need not have feared the comparison. In his own lifetime, he would be elevated to the status of living demi-god as part of ‘the three “B”s: Bach, Beethoven and Brahms’.

After a decade of ambivalence, the First Symphony was begun in earnest in 1872 following the death of the composer’s father. Although Beethoven’s musical DNA is everywhere to be found in it – from the titanic struggle of the first movement to the no less epic drama of the finale, out of which bursts a glorious hymn that owes much to the choral iteration of Goethe’s Ode to Joy in the Ninth Symphony – the First Symphony is also unmistakably Brahms. It heralded the dawn of a new era.