'The First Nowell' Anon
A magnificent work that helped re-establish the composer's self-confidence as a symphonist.
The immediacy of the romance in Rachmaninov's music is probably the greatest reason for its widespread and continued appeal.
The Second Symphony was written not in Russia but in Dresden, where Rachmaninov and his young family lived for the best part of four years from 1906. Rachmaninov considered himself first and foremost a composer and felt that his conducting schedule in Russia was detracting from his time to compose. Summers spent at his in-law's estate presented Rachmaninov with the opportunity to write both his Second Symphony and the tone poem, Isle of the Dead.
After the disaster of the premiere of his First Symphony, Rachmaninov fell into a depression and became unconvinced of his abilities as a symphonist. He was very unhappy with the first draft of his Second Symphony but after months of revision he finished the work and conducted the premiere in 1908 to great acclaim. The triumph re-established his sense of self-worth.
The Symphony is evidently not a simple or easy listen, not least because, at an hour in length, it requires considerable concentration - but it well repays the effort put in.