Sergey Rachmaninov

Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Op. 27

    Description by Robert Cummings

    By 1906, the time when Rachmaninov began work of the Second Symphony, he had become not only a well-known pianist and conductor, but a composer of considerable renown. Ten years before, however, the abject failure of his First Symphony had robbed him of his confidence and plunged him into a dark depression. Unable to compose for the next three years, he finally sought the help of Dr. Nicolai Dahl at the behest of relatives. Dahl used the then-new technique of hypnotism, which rapidly restored the composer's confidence. Shortly after his therapeutic sessions with Dahl, Rachmaninov produced his popular Second Piano Concerto. It must have been with some trepidation, though, that he started work on the Second Symphony, memories of the fate of the First undoubtedly still lingering in his mind.

    Indeed, after composing the first draft of this symphony in 1906-1907, Rachmaninov declared his dissatisfaction with it; he would remark that it was not in his nature to compose symphonies. Nevertheless, he forced himself to rework the piece, and on February 8, 1908, he led the first performance in St. Petersburg. It was enthusiastically received, and by the end of the year, Rachmaninov was awarded the Glinka prize for his new work.

    The Symphony opens with a brooding Largo introduction, drenched in mystery and ethereality; it features a motto theme that returns in various guises throughout the symphony. The agitated main theme (Allegro moderato) is followed by an alternate, more ecstatic melody, and then a rather stormy development section. The movement is quite long, especially when -- as is now the practice -- the exposition repeat is taken.

    The second movement Scherzo offers a vigorous theme of seemingly brighter mood than that of most of the music in the opening panel. Yet, it is derived from the Dies irae theme, used in the Roman Catholic mass for the dead -- a theme which Rachmaninov used in almost every major composition he wrote. There is a lovely alternate melody, which is related to the motto appearing in the symphony's introduction.

    The third movement (Adagio) opens a with a descending theme on strings, one of the composer's loveliest and most memorable creations. There follows an equally attractive melody on clarinet and another for violins and oboe. While to many this movement represents impassioned love music, to others it is profoundly meditative in its warm religiosity. No program was ever attached to the movement or to the Symphony by the composer.

    The Allegro vivace finale is happy and triumphant in its luminous main theme, and features a lushly orchestrated, beautiful alternate melody, similar in its ecstatic demeanor to several from the preceding movements. The coda brings on an all-conquering triumphant ending, resolving any lingering doubts spawned by the work's earlier darker elements.

    A typical performance of the complete version of the Second Symphony, first movement repeat included, lasts about an hour. Many recordings up to the 1970s, and even a few years beyond, included cuts, eliminating as much as 20 minutes from the score. Rachmaninov himself had been convinced in the early '30s to make cuts in the work, and in the end sanctioned nearly 20 in all. Most performances and recordings of the work today are faithful to Rachmaninov's original score.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Largo - Allegro moderato
    2. Allegro molto
    3. Adagio
    4. Allegro vivace

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 LSO Live LSO 0816
    2018 Signum Classics SIGCD 530
    2018 Menuetto Classics null
    2017 Capriccio Records C 8010
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 002894795516
    2016 Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler PH 13037
    2016 RCO Live RCO 16004
    2016 CuGate Classics CGC 010
    2015 Cugate Classics CUG 1
    2015 RCO RCO 15002
    2015 Alto MCSCD 1260
    2015 BIS BIS 2071
    2015 Oehms Classics OC 441
    2015 Dreyer-Gaido DGCD 21090
    2015 Alto / Musical Concepts MCSCD 6005
    2014 Deutsche Grammophon
    2014 Wienerworld 01367
    2014 Deutsche Grammophon 4793631
    2014 Warner Classics 2564627827
    2014 Decca 4786765
    2013 Entertainment Group 13806
    2013 Entertainment Group 14161
    2013 Entertainment Group 14162
    2013 Melodiya MYD 1002090
    2013 Deutsche Grammophon
    2013 Deutsche Grammophon 4785697
    2012 Naxos 8501059
    2012 ABC Classics ABC 4764842
    2012 Entertainment Group 12204
    2012 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099991547
    2012 Warner Classics
    2012 Concerto / Zebralution
    2011 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099994946
    2011 EMI Classics
    2011 Deutsche Grammophon 4779505
    2011 Deutsche Grammophon
    2011 Newton Classics 8802082
    2011 Decca
    2011 Royal Philharmonic Orchestra / RPO RPOSP 031
    2011 Warner Classics
    2011 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099908528926
    2010 Exton 00018
    2010 Newton Classics 8802021
    2010 RPO 28220
    2010 Naxos 8572458
    2010 LSO Live LSO 0677
    2010 Chandos 10589
    2010 Decca
    2009 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099926796
    2009 Membran 231755
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Denon Records 00795041941824
    2009 BIS 1712
    2009 EMI Classics
    2009 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099923761
    2009 Alto 1031
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099969759
    2008 RCO Live 08005
    2008 Brilliant Classics 8818
    2008 Deutsche Grammophon 445590
    2008 Svetlanov 4981
    2008 Cascavelle 3108
    2008 Chandos 66062
    2008 PentaTone Classics 5186153
    2008 Sony Classical Essential Classics 727987
    2007 Telarc Distribution 60670
    2007 Telarc Distribution 80670
    2007 BIS 1665/66
    2007 EMI Classics
    2007 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099950088
    2007 Apex
    2007 Arthaus Musik 101439
    2007 Melodiya 1000142
    2007 Decca 4758548
    2006 Exton 00156
    2006 Audite 92558
    2006 Canal Grande 6015
    2005 Erato
    2005 EMI Classics
    2005 EMI Classics 85075
    2005 EMI Classics
    2005 Nimbus 9003
    2004 Channel Classics 21604
    2004 Channel Classics 21698
    2003 EMI Music Distribution 75959
    2003 Tim 220828
    2003 Avie 0022
    2002 EMI Music Distribution 75127
    2002 Telarc Distribution 80113
    2002 Angelok 1 9929
    2002 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 7243575510
    2002 Capriccio Records 51108
    2002 BIS 1279
    2002 EMI Music Distribution 575565
    2001 Telarc Distribution 80543
    2001 Naxos 8 554230
    2001 Relief CR 991062
    2001 Naxos 8 505177
    2000 Music & Arts 4769
    2000 Deutsche Grammophon 469178
    2000 Arsis 99032
    2000 Boheme Music 3
    2000 Tring 052
    1999 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 7243573292
    1999 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 7243566997
    1998 Chandos 9665
    1998 Intersound 2822
    1998 London 455798
    1998 Nimbus 1761
    1998 Deutsche Grammophon 449767
    1997 Point Classics 265099
    1997 EMI Music Distribution 66554
    1997 London 448116
    1997 Sony Music Distribution 63257
    1997 EMI Music Distribution 569776-2
    1996 Mercury 434368
    1996 Melodiya 40064
    1995 Infinity Digital 64559
    1995 London 4406042
    1995 Infinity Digital 61991
    1994 Philips 438864
    1994 Decca
    1994 RCA 61281
    1994 EMI Music Distribution 55140
    1994 Naxos 550272
    1994 Deutsche Grammophon 439888
    1994 Philips 438724
    1994 RCA 68022
    1993 Virgin / Virgin Classics 59279
    1993 ASV CDQS6107
    1993 IMP Classics 904
    1993 Music & Arts 769
    1993 EMI Music Distribution 64530
    1993 Philips 438383
    1993 Philips
    1992 Telarc Distribution 80312
    1992 Chandos 8520
    1992 Nimbus 5322
    1992 Vox 5034
    1992 Delos 3071
    1991 Philips 432101
    1989 RCA 60132
    Angel Records 567247-2
    Nickson 1006
    Tim 220832
    Vox 8183
    CBS Records 45678
    EMI Music Distribution 66280
    Deutsche Grammophon 419314
    Philharmonia of the Nations 36
    Davidoff Classic 07
    Warner Music
    Capriccio Records 10306
    Virgin 562037
    BBC Music Magazine 127
    EMI Music Distribution 69828
    Decca 4000812
    Intersound 3449
    EMI Music Distribution 69029
    Teldec 0630-18958-2
    Classical Records 009
    Moscow Studio Archives 20002
    As Disc 524
    BBC Music 127
    London 400081
    Aurophon Records 31462
    Sony Music Distribution 57650
    Virgin 59548
    Collins Records 1054
    Nimbus NI1749
    Stradivari 6122
    RCA 60791
    LYS 375