Compact Discoveries
a series of one-hour radio programs produced, written, hosted, recorded and edited by Fred Flaxman
2003, 2007, and 2011 (with corrections) by Compact Discoveries, Inc.
Program 51
"Vocalise Variations"

MUSIC: all music in this program is by Rachmaninoff from the RCA Red Seal BMG Classics compact disc "Vocalise" [09026-63669-2], beginning with track 10, under the following:

Welcome to Compact Discoveries. I'm your guide, Fred Flaxman. The next hour will be devoted completely to a single compact discovery: an RCA Red Seal BMG Classics recording called "Vocalise." I call this program "Vocalise Variations."

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The Vocalise in question is by Sergei Rachmaninoff. It contains what in my opinion is one of the most beautiful melodies ever written. And lots of people evidently agree with me, including musicians, as this hour will prove.

You see the original piece by Rachmaninoff was written for soprano and piano. After all, a "vocalise" is a melody sung without words but to one or more vowel sounds. Cellists, flutists, violinists, choirs and orchestras all loved this melody so much that they arranged this music for their instruments.

This CD consists entirely of these various arrangements of Rachmaninoff's famous piece.

The original Rachmaninoff version, which we'll hear first, was the last of 14 songs published in 1912 as his Opus 34. The rest were all set to Russian texts. Vocalise has no text at all. The voice is treated as an instrument, like a violin or a clarinet.

MUSIC: Rachmaninoff: Vocalise (original version), Ruth Ann Swenson, soprano; Warren Jones, piano [track 13] [4:38]

The original version of Rachmaninoff's Vocalise. The soprano was Ruth Ann Swenson; the pianist was Warren Jones. That was recorded in 1994.

David Wright, in his essay accompanying this RCA/BMG compact disc, writes that "the seductive melody of Vocalise is vintage Rachmaninoff, derived, in the smooth way it slides up and down the musical scale, from the Orthodox church chants the composer heard in his youth. To this melodic motion - a feature of most of the famous melodies in his symphonies and piano concertos - Rachmaninoff adds luxuriant countermelodies intertwining with his main tune, as well as exotic chromatic harmonies that seem to stretch to infinity without ever reaching resolution. This may make Vocalise hard to hum on one's way out of the concert hall, but as a metaphor for nostalgia, homesickness, and erotic yearning, nothing says it better. The song's implicit drama has also recommended it to dancers of every kind, from ballet stars to Olympic skating champions"

Rachmaninoff himself transcribed his Vocalise for orchestra. He conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra in this version in 1929. This version is the fastest of any we shall hear in this hour, clocking in at under four minutes. That was probably so that it could fit on one side of a 78 r.p.m. disc - the standard technology of the time.

MUSIC: Rachmaninoff: Vocalise, with Sergei Rachmaninov conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra [track 4] [3:51]

Sergei Rachmaninoff conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra in this 1929 recording of his Vocalise.

"Vocalise Variations" is the theme for this hour of Compact Discoveries. We are listening to transcriptions for various instruments of this Rachmaninoff piece, which was originally written for voice and piano.

David Wright notes that "a great Rachmaninoff melody that does not depend on words for its effect was also bound to attract the interest of nearly every kind of musician. Indeed, it appears that Vocalise may be the single piece in the history of classical music that has been most recorded in transcription, for everything from solo piano to symphony orchestra with chorus."

Let's hear that solo piano transcription now as recorded in 1993 by Evgeny Kissin.

MUSIC: Rachmaninoff: Vocalise, Evgeny Kissin, piano [track 6] [6:04]

Rachmaninoff's Vocalise as transcribed for piano and performed by pianist Evgeny Kissin.

You are listening to Compact Discoveries. I'm your guide, Fred Flaxman, and this hour is devoted to Rachmaninoff's Vocalise and its transcriptions for instruments other than the voice: "Vocalise Variations."

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One of my favorite versions of Rachmaninoff's Vocalise is for cello and piano. The cello seems such a perfect substitute for the human voice. Wolfram Huschke is the cellist with Dieter Huschke at the piano. I don't know whose idea it was to add the thunder shower, but I, for one, could have done without it.

MUSIC: Rachmaninoff: Vocalise, with Wolfram Huschke, cello; Dieter Huschke, piano [track 10] [4:33]

Rachmaninoff's Vocalise, as arranged for cello and performed by cellist Wolfram Huschke with pianist Dieter Huschke. and sound effects that I could have done without. Quite a contrast to that arrangement is the one recorded in 1961 by the Norman Luboff Choir with the New Symphony Orchestra of London conducted by Leopold Stokowski.

MUSIC: Rachmaninoff: Vocalise with the Norman Luboff Choir, the New Symphony Orchestra of London conducted by Leopold Stokowski [track 8] [8:03]

Rachmaninoff's Vocalise as arranged and performed by the Norman Luboff Choir with the New Symphony Orchestra of London conducted by Leopold Stokowski.

Rachmaninoff's tune sounds very different from this version when played on a flute. Here's the arrangement for flute and orchestra by Charles Gerhardt. Gerhardt conducts the National Philharmonic Orchestra. James Galway is the flutist.

MUSIC: Rachmaninoff: Vocalise, James Galway, flute; National Philharmonic Orchestra, Charles Gerhardt [track 7] [4:15]

James Galway was the flutist with the National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Charles Gerhardt in Gerhardt's transcription of Rachmaninoff's Vocalise.

Next Victor Babin's piano duet version of this same piece with Victor Babin and Vitya Vronsky at the piano.

MUSIC: Rachmaninoff: Vocalise, Victor Babin and Vitya Vronsky, pianists [track 11] [4:28]

Victor Babin and Vitya Vronsky were at the piano for Babin's piano duet transcription of Rachmaninoff's Vocalise.

You are listening to "Vocalise Variations" on Compact Discoveries. I'm your guide, Fred Flaxman.

Jascha Heifetz arranged this beautiful Rachmaninoff piece for violin and piano. We hear that transcription now as performed by Vladimir Spivakov, violin and Sergei Bezrodny, piano.

MUSIC: Rachmaninoff: Vocalise, Vladimir Spivakov, violin and Sergei Bezrodny, piano [track 3] [5:13]

Vladimir Spivakov, violin and Sergei Bezrodny, piano, performed Jascha Heifetz's transcription of Rachmaninoff's Vocalise.

And now for something really different. Rachmaninoff's Vocalise as performed by the all-electronic Plasma Symphony Orchestra of Isao Tomita. This was recorded in 1984.

MUSIC: Rachmaninoff: Vocalise, Plasma Symphony Orchestra, Isao Tomita [track 9] [5:51]

Isao Tomita's all-electronic Plasma Symphony Orchestra and their version of Rachmaninoff's Vocalise from 1984.

I'm going to conclude this hour of "Vocalise Variations" with an excerpt from Kurt Sanderling's arrangement for an all-acoustic orchestra. Yuri Temirkanov conducts the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra in this 1991 recording.

MUSIC: Rachmaninoff: Vocalise, St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Yuri Temirkanov [track 12]

[over the music] You have been listening to "Vocalise Variations" on Compact Discoveries. The music was all from an RCA Red Seal/BMG Classics compact disc called "Vocalise." I hope you have enjoyed this program. My name is Fred Flaxman, and you can reach me in care of this station or through my website: I would love to hear from you.

Compact Discoveries is a production of Compact Discoveries, Incorporated, and is a presentation of WXEL-FM, West Palm Beach, Florida.

ANNOUNCER: This program was made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Arts - a great nation deserves great art; and by the Public Radio Exchange Reversioning Project. The Public Radio Exchange is at

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Program Ends at 58:00

  2009 Compact Discoveries