Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943)
- Piano Concerto No. 2
admitted the influence of both Rimsky-Korsakov
and Tchaikovsky. In itself, that's innocent
enough, but the Russian Nationalist Rimsky-Korsakov
favoured “insularity”, while Tchaikovsky
preferred Western European models - “community”.
Rachmaninov incorporated the best of both
worlds. Had he been a footballer, his manager
would undoubtedly have announced, “This
lad’s a natural”. Making no bones about
it, Rachmaninov regarded his sleeve as a
perfectly proper repository for his heart.
Good for him.
not surprisingly, “Insecurity” was his middle
name. The First Symphony’s critical
slating (1897) plunged him into a pool of
despond requiring several hypnosis sessions
to shift. Just as quickly re-invigorated
he penned the Second Piano Concerto,
for which the world will ever be in his
for a Russian, he was marvellously adept
at spinning out a long line. Characteristically
for him, in his concertos he would festoon
his “line” with incessant and elaborate
pianistic “laundry”. Maybe this is him wearing
his insecurity on his sleeve, almost afraid
to shut up for a second, lest he run dry.
he’s no slouch when it comes to handling
the orchestra. We cannot but admire his
presentation of the glorious opening subject,
merely the most obvious instance of giving
the role of accompanist to the soloist,
or the numerous occasions where one protagonist
considerately passes a phrase to the other,
even in “mid-sentence”. Thus Rachmaninov
declares which of “composer” and “virtuoso
pianist” comes first in his book.
Dare I suggest that more of today’s pianists
should remember that?
originally commissioned by the Vancouver
Symphony for a concert given on 18 Oct 2003
© Paul Serotsky
37, Mayfield Grove,
West Yorkshire HD6 4EE
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