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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett
 

Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943) - Piano Concerto No. 2

Rachmaninov 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. 

Perhaps 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 debt. 

Uncharacteristically 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. 

Nevertheless, 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? 

Note originally commissioned by the Vancouver Symphony for a concert given on 18 Oct 2003  
 


© Paul Serotsky 
37, Mayfield Grove, 
Brighouse, 
West Yorkshire HD6 4EE 


 

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