Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3
Review by Karl Lozier
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SACD Stock Number: Telarc Hybrid 60582
Rachmaninoff composed this "Concerto #3" in 1909 for his thirty-concert tour of the United States. He was rushed to finish it before leaving and as a result, he had no time to practice the demanding solo part before leaving. He brought along some sort of silent keyboard contraption that he used in his stateroom to learn his new composition; he hated the practice keyboard and vowed to never again use it. Do remember, Rachmaninoff was one of the greatest pianists of all time. He knew that he needed to perfect the demanding solo piano part by the time he arrived in America. He was going to be pianist as well as conductor of his compositions during a number of the stops during his tour. Later on he usually limited his efforts to that of composer and pianist. He premiered the "Concerto" on November 28, 1909 with the New York Symphony Orchestra and Walter Damrosch conducting. The next time he performed the concerto was with a composer he greatly admired as the conductor, Gustav Mahler.
The concerto has turned out to be one of the best in the entire piano concerto repertoire. It consists of three large movements. The opening melody has little orchestral accompaniment. It is reminiscent of some chants of the Russian Orthodox Church. These chant-like melodies (also used in his beautiful composition, "Rhapsody on a Theme by
Paganini") were probably buried in his memory as a child. Then later on they sublimely returned but Rachmaninoff always professed that he had not deliberately used any liturgical music, that it had "created itself". This basic melody returns many times (with variations) during all three movements of this marvelous composition. Listen carefully for it; in the second movement you'll hear it also played by just the bassoon and clarinet. There are three structured large sections in the dazzling finale - a real showpiece. Here again you can hear the aforementioned melody with interesting variations. I call it a suitable climax to one of the great piano concertos even though his second is the more popular.
During a recent three-way comparison between different DVD and CD players this disc is one of three I wound up listening to for relaxation between sessions. It was never used in the listening sessions and I listened to it at a relaxingly moderate level. I consistently came away feeling refreshed as if I had been listening to a particularly lovely live performance from a relatively distant balcony seat. Sublimely subtle in almost everyway, I knew that this disc and Lang Lang's performance could not stand comparison with my long time favorite recording by Byron Janis with Dorati conducting on a particularly fine Mercury LP. Surprisingly it turned out to be a close call. The triumvirate of Janis, Dorati and Mercury results in an overall sensation of a bit more power and drive in some passages; lets call it slightly more extroverted.
Lang Lang's performance is simply outstanding. This great talent was still a teenager when this recording, the second for Telarc, was made. On the basis of this recording, I'll go on record as predicting Lang Lang will become one of the greatest pianists of the first half of the twenty first century. There seemed to be no shortcomings or weaknesses in his performance of the concerto and his playing in the lyrical or melodic sections was particularly luminous and downright enchanting. The recording holds up well even at rather high playback levels. The orchestral sections blend together almost perfectly with no artificial highlighting and the strings were never overbearing and at times almost subdued. Here conductor Yuri Temirkanov and the St. Petersburg Philharmonic's collaboration is near ideal as it was with their pairing on another Rachmaninoff CD with pianist Dmitri Alexeev doing the
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. This recording was "Live at the BBC Proms" at the Royal Albert Hall, London, England. Perhaps this venue has an effect on my continuing feeling about this recording. Do a favor for me, which hopefully will be a favor for yourself. After purchasing this recording (and you definitely should), the first time you listen to it have your persona in a relaxed setting and keep the volume at a distinctly moderate level. Resist the temptation to really belt out the volume until at least the second or third listening session. I want you to e-mail your evaluation to me. Ending the live session is a relatively familiar and almost hauntingly beautiful solo encore of a Chinese folk song, "Liu Yang River". It is also performed on a German Hamburg Steinway "D". The ten Scriabin etudes, a very varied selection and extremely well recorded and performed, were done later at Oberlin College using an American "D" Steinway. The different recording locations tend to obscure the differences between the American and German Steinways.
I like this recording immensely in all respects; it deserves my highest recommendation to all classical music lovers. Don't be surprised if you wind up preferring it to Rachmaninoff's second concerto. The excellent recording is a model of its kind, but slightly different sounding than Telarc's usual, just as this live location
differs from Telarc's usual.