The Scherzo for Orchestra in D Minor is the earliest surviving orchestral work by Rachmaninoff. The manuscript is dated February 1888, when the composer was just fourteen years of age. The score demonstrates a good understanding of the principles of orchestral composition.
Rachmaninoff was not yet able to write the name correctly (on the title page one may read scerzo instead of scherzo), but he had no difficulties whatsoever with the orchestration. The clarity of the writing and the pulsating rhythm remind one of the scherzo from Mendelssohn’s music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The tone of D minor was not selected by chance – it would appear that it held a particular significance for Rachmaninoff in his early years. In addition to the scherzo, also written in D minor were Song without Words (1886 or 1887) and Canon for Piano (1891), Trio élégiaque, Op. 9, (1893) and the First Symphony (1895). The subheading of “third movement” in the manuscript indicates that the work was conceived as a movement of a full-scale symphony cycle.
The first performance of the scherzo took place in Moscow on 2 November 1945, two years after the composer’s death.
Concerto for Saxophone and String Orchestra is a work of Alexander Glazunov’s late period of life. It could seem surpising for the contemporaries that the venerable author who had a reputation of being conservative turned to saxophone. Russian composers had never before written solo works for the instrument nor had they used it in the orchestra. After moving to France in 1928 Glazunov composed little but French saxophonists’ playing inspired him to write two works featuring the saxophone, the Quartet and the Concerto. Glazunov was captivated by the melodious timbre and great technical abilities of the saxophone. «These performers are so masterful that I hardly can imagine that they play the same instruments we can hear in jazz. I’m astonished by their breathing and tirelessness, by the soft and clear intonation», –he wrote to Maximilian Steinberg impressed by the playing of the Garde républicaine saxophone quartet.
The concerto was written for the German virtuoso saxophonist Sigurd Rascher, who had immediately included it in his concert tours and played the work brilliantly setting its reputation as a hit of the saxophone repertoire. Today the Glazunov’s Concerto is performed by every classical saxophonist in the world. In order to highlight the timbre of the solo saxophone the composer abandoned the wind instruments of the orchestra restricting it to the string group. The Concerto is in four movements without pause. First theme introduced by the full orchestral unison reminds of the bogatyr music of the Russian symphonies but gets a more lyrical character when played by the saxophone. More agile is the second theme with its elegant ornamentation and chromatic passages. Second movement’s theme is moderate and song-like, its development recalling Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony. This is followed by the lively section leading to the solo cadenza, where all virtuoso abilities of the saxophone are demonstrated. The final movement is a fugato in the tarantella rhythm, interweaving all the themes of the previous sections. The conclusion of the concerto is a brilliant virtuoso coda.