The Lavrova-Primakov Piano Duo will release their latest recording on their own LP Classics label just in time to celebrate Sergei Rachmaninoff’s birthday on April 1st; the recording will include both of Rachmaninoff’s monumental two-piano suites, written earlier in his life while he still lived in Russia (1893 & 1901 respectively). The CD release paves the way for the duo’s much-anticipated May 20th concert at Merkin Hall. The concert will also include works by Franz Liszt, Alexander Scriabin, and two premieres: a New York premiere by renowned composer Lowell Liebermann, and a world premiere of a work by South African composer Braam van Eeden, whose sensitive talent for the piano has been previously introduced on a recent LP Classics disc: Opus 13, the debut recording of pianist David Aladashvili.
Rachmaninoff’s precious suites will be featured on the disc, titled Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff (1873 – 1943) Music for Two Pianos Lavrova-Primakov Piano Duo LP CLASSICS 1019 (Total Time 79:16)(Available on www.lpclassics.net; Amazon.com; iTunes; cdbaby.com; ArkivMusic), alongside his last and quite complex work, The Symphonic Dances (1940), which was composed while he lived the United States.
“We are incredibly thrilled to present our readings of Rachmaninoff’s music for Two Pianos to our listeners. It is always a humbling experience to play his music, one might say an even treacherously nerve-racking one, at times,” Primakov said, right after the recording took place, at a private home in Stratton, Vermont.
Presented by GetClassical, the duo’s concert at Merkin Hall on May 20th promises to give an exciting outlook on both artists’ individual pianistic talent as well as their balanced duo playing.
I noticed the duo’s remarkable communication when both artists performed for GetClassical at the Gramercy Park Hotel Rose Bar, and again just recently at the latest GetClassical Salon event, which took place on March 25th at the historic India House.
It is a huge honor for me to present Lavrova and Primakov yet again at the Kaufman Music Center’s welcoming Merkin Hall. While GetClassical aims to open the classical concert forum not just to audiences already familiar with classical performance, but to new audiences through intimate Salon-style presentations, the duo clearly deserves the attention of the greater music community.
It has been nearly 4 years since the two long-time friends and co-founders of their label, LP Classics, ventured into performing as a piano duo, and just recently have they mustered the courage to enter the wondrous soundscape of Rachmaninoff.
“Actually, all of it happened sort of by accident,” explains Primakov. “Originally, we weren’t intending to learn both of the suites and The Symphonic Dances. We had the 2nd suite under our belt and started performing it extensively, and at the time…actually had thought that it would be enough for a while. Well, it turned out the universe had other plans for us. Next thing we knew, we were invited to perform at a very prestigious festival, with one condition – Symphonic Dances had to be on the program. So we learned that rather quickly.”
Another Rachmaninoff four-hand piece entered their repertoire when they decided to learn the Fantaisie-Tableaux, Rachmaninoff’s first suite, which the pair needed to learn for a duo-piano competition last year.
“After all this, we started entertaining the notion and brewing up some plans to attempt recording all of this someday, but were initially convinced that it would not happen for a while,” adds Primakov.
But then, something unexpected happened: LP Classics had booked recording time and space for a project that fell apart, leaving the duo with the dilemma of creating a different program in just two weeks, or losing those planned days and the wonderful space set aside for their label. “Needless to say, we were stressed and a little heartbroken, but we did some quick thinking and apparently decided that we were crazy enough to get ready and record Rachmaninoff in TWO WEEKS’ TIME!”
Says Lavrova after the completion of the formidable undertaking: “We had a blast! And I think that those extreme circumstances worked in our favor, because despite the intensity of it all, endless hours of practicing, sleepless nights…it became a real passion project, filled with our craving for Rachmaninoff and our mutual Russian culture.”
Dedicating their work to their friends, collaborators, and supporters, the Lavrova–Primakov Duo describes the program with the following liner notes:
Suite No.1(Fantaisie-Tableaux), Op.5
- Barcarolle. Allegretto
- II. La nuit… L’amour. Adagio sostenuto
- III. Les Larmes. Largo di molto
- IV. Pâques. Allegro maestoso
Suite No.2, Op.17
- Introduction. Alla Marcia
- II. Valse. Presto
- III. Romance. Andantino
- IV. Tarantelle. Presto
Symphonic Dances, Op.45
- Non allegro
- II. Andante con moto (Tempo di valse)
- III. Lento assai – Allegro vivace
Rachmaninoff’s First Suite, Op. 5, called Fantaisie-Tableaux for two pianos, was written in the summer of 1893, when the composer was just twenty years old. He spent the summer with friends on a country estate near Kharkov. After he returned to Moscow, he paid a visit to his former teacher, the great composer Sergey Taneyev, where he encountered another friend, adviser and ardent supporter – P.I. Tchaikovsky. What transpired at that meeting is in Rachmaninoff’s Recollections, as told to Oskar von Riesemann. Tchaikovsky was much impressed with the success of the Prelude (the famous C # Minor Prelude Op.3, that was written two years prior), as well as with the considerable amount of music his young colleague had managed to compose up to that point. “And I, miserable wretch,” he remarked, “have only written one Symphony!” That symphony, the last work to come from his pen, was the Pathétique.
At that meeting, Rachmaninoff told Tchaikovsky that he was dedicating his Fantasie for Two Pianos to him and the plan was set for Rachmaninoff to premiere it and Tchaikovsky was to attend that concert. Unfortunately, that never took place for later that year, Tchaikovsky passed away.
The Suite No. 1 for Two Pianos represents Rachmaninoff’s first attempt at writing program music. Maybe the definitive Rachmaninoff stamp is not yet affixed to this work, but there are many passages which are unmistakably characteristic and prophetic, while the technical, tonal and interpretive resources of the two keyboards have been employed with masterly insight. The work is in four movements, headed by verses from Lermontov, Byron, Tyoutchev and Khomiakov. The movements are entitled, respectively, Barcarolle, La nuit… L’amour… (The Night…The Love…), Les Larmes (The Tears) and Pâques (Easter). The first movement is full of warmth and romanticism; the second and third are rather nostalgic, full of longing and melancholy, and the finale is a short, exuberant imitation of the bells of the Kremlin ringing out on Easter morning. Rachmaninoff and Mussorgsky must have heard those bells with ears similarly attuned, for there is definite similarities between the Easter movement of this Suite and the sound of the bells in the great Coronation Scene from “Boris Godunov”, which also takes place before the Kremlin.
At dusk half-heard the chill wave laps/ Beneath the gondola’s slow oar …once more a song! once more the twanged guitar!…now sad, now gaily ringing, The barcarolle comes winging.The boat slid by, the water clove: So time glides o’er the surge of love;The water will grow smooth again, But what can rouse a passion slain!
“It is the hour” (Byron, from Parisina)
It is the hour when from the boughs/ The nightingale’s high note is heard; It is the hour — when lover’s vows/ Seem sweet in every whisper’d word; And gentle winds and waters near, / Make music to the lonely ear. Each flower the dews have lightly wet, / And in the sky the stars are met, And on the wave is deeper blue, / And on the leaf a browner hue, And in the Heaven that clear obscure / So softly dark, and darkly pure, That follows the decline of day/ As twilight melts beneath the moon away.
Tears, human tears that pour forth beyond telling, Early and late, in the dark, out of sight, While the world goes on its way all unwittingly, Numberless, stintless, you fall unremittingly, Pouring like rain, the long rain that is welling Endlessly, late in the autumn at night.
Across the earth a mighty peal is sweeping Till all the booming air rocks like a sea, As silver thunders carol forth the tidings, Exulting in that holy victory…
If the First Suite was inspired by a stay in the Russian countryside, the Second Suite, Op. 17, may be said to have been born in a psychiatrist’s office. Rachmaninoff’s First Symphony, bearing the fateful opus number 13, had been a failure at its premiere in St. Petersburg in 1897, and he immediately suppressed it, hiding the score and parts. The work was not performed again until two years after his death, but its failure left an indelible imprint upon the sensitive young composer. He fell into a state of melancholy brooding and apathy, which lasted for three years, during which time he composed nothing.
Finally, his cousins, the Satins, with whom he was living, induced Rachmaninoff to visit Dr. Nicolai Dahl, a practitioner in the science of hypnosis and auto-suggestion, and himself an amateur musician. Between January and April, 1900, he paid daily visits to the doctor’s office where, sitting half-asleep in a chair, he listened to the same words, repeated over and over again: “You will begin to write your Concerto …, You will work with great facility …, The Concerto will be of an excellent quality …” The reason for the insistence upon a concerto was that Rachmaninoff had promised to compose his Second Piano Concerto for presentation in London, but had been unable to make any progress of it.
The plan worked. Dr. Dahl’s psychiatric treatment started Rachmaninoff back on the road to creating new music. Before long, he not only had enough ideas for his Concerto but there was sufficient material left over for his Suite No. 2 for Two Pianos, which was completed in 1901 and published before the Concerto. Other works came in quick succession as well. These included the Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op. 19; the Cantata Spring, Op. 20; Twelve songs, Op. 21; the Variations for Piano on a Theme of Chopin, Op. 22, and Ten Preludes, Op. 23.
Considering the fact that it took root in Rachmaninoff’s mind simultaneously with the Second Piano Concerto, it is not at all surprising that the Second Suite for Two Pianos sounds as if it had been cut from the same cloth. Like the Fantasie, it is also in four movements: the first movement is a robust Introduction; the second – and most popular – is a vivacious and quite exhilarating Valse; the third is a beautiful, poetic Romance; and the fourth is a brilliant Tarantella, which recalls more than any of its companion sections the style and mood of the Second Concerto.
Rachmaninoff wrote an arrangement of his Symphonic Dances for two pianos simultaneously with the orchestral version. The first performance of this arrangement was famously performed by the composer, along with Vladimir Horowitz, at a private party in Beverly Hills, California in August 1942. Rachmaninoff began to work on this piece, (his final composition) in the summer of 1940. The premiere, with Eugene Ormandy conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra, took place on January 3rd, 1941. It received a rather negative reception that crushed Rachmaninoff. The last 25 years or so have witnessed a strong growth in appreciation of this moody, many-layered and spectacularly orchestrated work, as testified by numerous recordings and live performances.
Symphonic Dances continued Rachmaninoff’s obsession with the Dies irae, a somber melody drawn from the medieval plainchant Mass for the Dead. He had previously quoted it in several works. The Dies irae appears several times in veiled form in the first movement of the Symphonic Dances. This movement (Non Allegro) begins quietly, expectantly, before introducing its bold, thrusting main subject. The long, floating melody of the central section is probably one of Rachmaninoff’s most amazing lyrical creations.
Within the framework of a symphonic waltz, the second dance (Andante con moto: Tempo di valse) presents a haunted vision of the ballroom. It lies closer in spirit to Ravel’s La valse or the Valse triste of Sibelius than the joyous dance-poems of the Strauss family. Introduced by eerie, muted fanfares, it turns on a troubled waltz tune. The spirit of the dance never maintains itself for long. The music regularly slows almost to a halt, as if in nervous anticipation of impending catastrophe, or shadowed by memories of past horrors. A mood of nostalgic reverie attempts to assert itself mid-way through, only to be shattered by the return of the opening fanfares. The tempo accelerates through a passage of mounting hysteria, only to peak quickly, then end with equal abruptness.
The final movement is a grand witches’ sabbath that would make Berlioz or Mussorgsky proud. Pervaded from the opening bars by the Dies irae, it seethes with manic, diabolical energy. A reflective and lamenting middle section provides contrast. With the return of the opening material, a furious conflict breaks out between the Dies irae and a traditional Russian religious chant, Blessed is the Lord. The chant finally gains the upper hand, and an Alleluia theme drawn from Rachmaninoff’s choral work Vespers rings out triumphantly. On that note, Rachmaninoff concluded his career as a composer – and made his final musical/ philosophical statement – with a representation of the victory of his deeply held religious faith over the powers of darkness and death. At the end of the manuscript score, he inscribed, “I thank Thee, Lord.”
Read about the artists here and in the following description:
In the few short years since the Lavrova/Primakov Duo was established—in 2010—the duo has performed extensively throughout the United States and has attracted superlative reviews. In 2011 the Duo established its own record label, LP Classics, an initiative committed to unearthing lost historical gems, presenting never-before released recordings, and enriching the discographies of emerging stars of a new generation.
Reviewing the Duo’s first release, Anton Arensky’s Suites for Two Pianos, veteran Fanfare critic Jerry Dubins wrote:
”Lavrova and Primakov take turns playing the Piano I and Piano II parts, but technically and tonally they are so well-matched, you wouldn’t know who was on first and who was on second unless you read the disc’s track listing. … Strongly recommended then for a dazzling display of two-piano works by two phenomenal pianists.”
Natalia Lavrova has deftly combined an international performing career as piano soloist with a variety of pedagogical and arts administrative positions. Her riveting performances enhanced by her beguiling charm on the platform as well as her impeccable technical grounding have won the hearts of audiences around the world.
Solo and orchestral performances have taken Ms. Lavrova throughout her native Russia to Canada, France, Hungary, Italy, United Kingdom, South Africa, and the United States, to include notable New York venues such as Alice Tully Hall and Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall and Steinway Hall. Ms. Lavrova has captured top prizes at the New Orleans, Isabel Scionti, Frinna Auerbach, Heidi Hermanns, Music Academy of the West, Silver Lake, and Senigallia International Piano Competitions. Upon her debut at the Leeds International Piano Competition, Ms. Lavrova was the youngest performer of 1996 admitted to the quarterfinal round. In her repertoire, she has over 30 concertos and extensive solo recital programs, as well as a substantial chamber music repertoire, including an ongoing partnership with her duo partner, pianist, Vassily Primakov. Her repertoire includes works of Arensky, Clementi, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Chopin, Brahms, Schubert, Liszt, Debussy, Milhaud, Godowsky, Saint-Saens, Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, Shostakovich, Poulenc, Prokofiev, Corigliano, Liebermann, Barber, van Eeden and many others.
Born in Moscow, Ms. Lavrova entered the prestigious preparatory division of the Moscow Conservatory at the age of five and was subsequently accepted by The Juilliard School Pre-College Division as a pupil in the studio of Herbert Stessin. Ms. Lavrova went on to earn her Bachelor of Music and Masters of Music degrees at Juilliard, under the tutelage of Jerome Lowenthal. Ms. Lavrova is the founder and president of a very successful private school, Music School of New York City. She is a Yamaha Artist in Education.
In recent years, Vassily Primakov has been hailed as a pianist of world class importance. In the words of Gramophone, “Primakov’s empathy with Chopin’s spirit could hardly be more complete,” and the American Record Guide stated: “Since Gilels, how many pianists have the right touch? In Chopin, no one currently playing sounds as good as this! This is a great Chopin pianist.” Music Web-International called Primakov’s Chopin concertos CD “one of the great Chopin recordings of recent times. These are performances of extraordinary power and beauty.” In 1999, as a teen-aged prizewinner of the Cleveland International Piano Competition, Primakov was praised by veteran music critic Donald Rosenberg in the Cleveland’s Plain Dealer: “How many pianists can make a line sing as the Moscow native did on this occasion? Every poignant phrase took ethereal wing. Elsewhere the music soared with all of the turbulence and poetic vibrancy it possesses. We will be hearing much from this remarkable musician.”
His first piano studies were with his mother, Marina Primakova. He entered Moscow’s Central Special Music School at the age of eleven as a pupil of Vera Gornostaeva, and at 17 came to New York to pursue studies at the Juilliard School with the noted pianist, Jerome Lowenthal. At Juilliard Mr. Primakov won the William Petschek Piano Recital Award, which presented his debut recital at Alice Tully Hall, and while at Juilliard, aided by a Susan W. Rose Career Grant, he won both the Silver Medal and the Audience Prize in the 2002 Gina Bachauer International Artists Piano Competition. Later that year Primakov won First Prize in the 2002 Young Concert Artists (YCA) International Auditions. In 2007 he was named the Classical Recording Foundation’s “Young Artist of the Year.” In 2009, Primakov’s Chopin Mazurkas recording was named “Best of the Year” by National Public Radio. BBC Music Magazine praised the first volume of Primakov’s Mozart concertos: “The piano playing is of exceptional quality: refined, multi-coloured, elegant of phrase and immaculately balanced, both in itself and in relation to the effortlessly stylish orchestra. The rhythm is both shapely and dynamic, the articulation a model of subtlety. By almost every objective criterion, Vassily Primakov is a Mozartian to the manner born, fit to stand as a role model to a new generation.”
Mr. Primakov has released numerous recordings for Bridge Records that include works by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Chopin, Dvorak, Debussy, Tchaikovsky, Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, Philip Glass, Arlene Sierra, and Poul Ruders. Most recently, LP Classics released a Live in Concert album that includes works by Medtner, Schumann, Brahms’s Handel Variations and Ravel’s La Valse, and a Chopin Two-Disc Album of Three Sonatas, Four Ballades, and Four Scherzos. In 2012 Mr. Primakov became a Yamaha Artist.
An added bonus will be the fancyful concert attire of the Lavrova/Primakov Duo, provided by talented fashion designer Madeline Gruen. A graduate of the Pratt Institute, whose senior collection received the “Liz Clairborne Award – Concept du Product,” funded by the Liz Claireborne and Art Ortenberg Foudation, she is renowned for her romantic silhouettes and intricate embelishments. She currently works as one of the young, freelancing designers out of the Pratt Design Incubator, at her studio at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
All photo credits : Alex Fedorov