Sergei Rachmaninoff - Symphony No. 2


This beautiful and popular symphony features one of the longest clarinet solos in orchestral repertoire. Consequently, it is on nearly every audition. The lush, beautiful sounds of Rachmaninoff are rarely more velvety smooth than in this solo, so pick a tone color to match, and maintain it in all dynamics, never pressing in the fortes. In the orchestra, you'll have to play louder than written, but in an audition, you can really play up the piano dynamics and the diminuendi, where the real expression lies. The architectural structure of the solo is magnificent in its perfection, and Rachmaninoff gives us plenty of direction to help his vision come to light in the incredibly long phrases that make up this expressive solo. I recommend transposing this solo and playing it on the B-flat clarinet, to save you the trouble of crossing the upper break at the most delicately expressive moment. Be very legato with your fingers, and keep the air spinning to help with smoothness as well.

Start very soft and grow in the first note, heading towards a peak in the second bar. Subdivide triplets in your head on the half-note so that you can play accurately on the fourth beat. The seconds are playing syncopated triplets, while the lower strings have duplet-eighth-notes. Use them as a guide to keep yourself properly in rhythm with them. In the second measure change directions somewhere in the middle with your color change and volume change at different times, beginning to move towards your next cresc. on the eighth-notes in bar 3. The peak of this first long phrase is the G in the middle of bar 3, which is followed by a long dim. which is momentarily interrupted by a swell towards the downbeat of the measure before 46. I recommend breathing at the beginning of 2 before 46 and again 1 before if you need it, then going until 1 after 46 and breathing in the middle of the measure. Stretch the B before 46 a little, and emphasize it a bit, giving you plenty of space for the dim. I like to change directions around the E and lead a little back into the G repeat of the opening bar, warming up the tone along the way.

Be a little more overt in this version of the beginning solo at 46 driving to the tenuto-ed triplets, and save most of your dim. for the three notes leading up to the A. Grab a quick breath and cresc. quickly to mf getting very passionate as you head up to the triplet beginning on high B. Play this triplet similarly to the one that was two bars previous. This, and beginning the following dim. like you did in the bar before 46, will help play up the great architecture of the music.

The sixth measure after 46 is the dramatic high-point, and playing it on the B-flat clarinet makes it much easier. After breathing, play a fantastic dim. on the scale up to the high C (now a B), adding a further sudden small drop in dynamic on the fourth beat - in the middle of this quarter-note. I like this kind of phrasing for a few reasons: it helps underscore the syncopation, it helps change the phrase direction, it helps go with chord changes that occur at the same time, and it shows the meter/rhythm more clearly when playing it alone at an audition. Also slow down here, and stretch this C, and D. Play VERY soft, and be extra smooth as you go from B to side-C#, staying in the 3rd partial, not having to cross the break and play C-D instead. Once arriving on the pp written high-C half-note, rest there dynamically for a full quarter-note, to help the sense of arrival. Cresc. on the second half of this note, growing with passion as you head through the eighth-notes to the B half-note, breathing, and playing a very passionate mf set of eighth notes around A. The dim. in the 9th bar of 46 is pretty great, and you can do another subito piu p on the 4th beat of this measure, like on the high C at the peak. I also like this dynamic change 5 and 3 before 47 on the Ds. Relax down to the E 8 before 47 for the first of three deceptive cadences.

The nearly-completely-stepwise solo started hovering around G, went up to A, then B, then peaked at C. Then it came down in a matter of three bars - C, B, A, G, F to E. Now Rachmaninoff teases the audience with dominant chords and Ds in our solo that refuse to resolve to the tonic. In three gestures, these phrases have to leave us wanting with various degrees of desire. I think of these three phrases as Normal, Passionate, and Resolved. Play the first with average beautiful expression and a wonderful dim. For the second, with the poco cresc., consider replacing poco with molto, using rubato to highlight the passion, while always remembering this is the dying-down part of the solo. As you resolve to the E for the final time, four measures before 47, drain some of the life from the tone color, playing up the more subtle phrasing you'll use for the third of these phrases. While resigning, sighing, and relaxing to the final cadence, this time to the tonic, also relax and warm your tone to give the audience a sense of finally arriving home after this emotional experience. You should breathe after each of the Es in these final phrases, giving you enough air to make it six beats on the final C with solo tone.