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Rachmaninoff : Piano concerto no.3 in D minor, Op.30 [sound recording]

af Sergei Rachmaninoff (Komponist)

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Demands from pianists after seeing the movie Shine have brought this excepted piano solo version of the Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto to life. This arrangement is for advanced duet (two pianos/four hands).

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Sergei Rachmaninov (1873–1943)
Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30

[1] I. Allegro ma non tanto (17.07)
[2] II. Intermezzo: Adagio (11.11)
[3] III. Finale: Alla breve (15.48)

Jorge Bolet, piano
London Symphony Orchestra
Ivan Fischer

Recorded: September 1982, Kingsway Hall, London.

ArkivMusic, CD-R on demand. [Decca, 1985.] TT: c. 44 min. Piano by C. Bechstein. Liner notes by Bryce Morrison.


It has always been fashionable to degrade this recording in comparison with Bolet’s incandescent live performance from 1969. To be sure, the later recording is slower, more reflective and more subdued. But these are poor reasons to degrade it. Make no mistake; the 1982 performance is in no way deficient, technically or musically; Bolet, though nearly 68 at the time, was not a decrepit old man pathetically trying to do what he no longer was able to. The difference between the recordings merely shows that masterpieces can withstand diverse interpretations – indeed, this is part of the definition of masterpiece – and that great artists change with the years, or from live concerts to studio recordings, without losing their strength. In the liner notes, most of which consist of his own words, Jorge Bolet provides a great deal of insight into his interpretation:

I heard Rachmaninov play his Third Concerto at least a dozen times and can never forget his grandeur, drama and lyrical intensity. I first learnt the Third Concerto when I was fourteen but I let the music mature for another eight years before my first public performance. Of course the mechanical and physical challenge is formidable, but for me the real problem is two-fold: to project the music’s teeming inner life, its deep-dyed Slavonic romanticism, and then to make it all cohere, add up to a total experience. If your audience feels that this is episodic or that is redundant, if you let them forget the music’s line and continuity, you have failed in your central task.

This is extraordinarily perceptive. For my part, there is nothing “episodic” or “redundant” in Bolet’s 1982 recording of Rachmaninoff’s Third Concerto. That’s exactly what makes it special. It may be slower than the tempestuous 1969 live recording (this is partly due to the fact that the studio version is virtually uncut), but the more important fact is that it doesn’t sound slow. I don’t know how Bolet achieves this. All I know is that you can’t achieve it by trying. This kind of artistry is instinctive, or at least formed very early in life. The opening theme and the first-movement cadenza are actually faster than is customary nowadays, but that only goes to confirm Harold Schonberg’s gloomy observation that the modern vogue for slowness misrepresents the music.[1] The rousing opening of the third movement is actually slower than usual (but not slower than the 1969 recording!), yet does it sound interminable? Not to me. On the whole, this is a subtle and sensitive, yet powerful, performance that leaves, as far as I am concerned, nothing to be desired. Further in the liner notes, Jorge explains why he made certain choices in regard to the text:

Of the two versions of the first-movement cadenza I greatly prefer the lighter, more quicksilver one. The shape and architecture of the alternative overreaches itself and the climax comes too soon. Incidentally, I make only one two-bar cut at the climax of the cadenza: the rhythm is already sufficiently emphatic without further rhetoric. Unlike Rachmaninov I play the alternative version of the Intermezzo’s Più vivo – it’s less ‘busy’ or fussy than the original – though the left-hand double notes are much more taxing. Then I play all of the Meno mosso in the finale. If you remove it you erase a beautiful passage and involve yourself in a clumsy transition. I don’t play the double note ossia ascent in the finale (just before Tempo I, Alla breve). It’s too ornate and impossible to articulate satisfactorily at such high speed. Again, the triplet as opposed to quadruplet octaves on the last page are far more powerful and incisive, more rhythmically authentic. As for tempi I follow Rachmaninov’s example in the opening Allegro, playing with greater rapidity than usual, but I take the finale quite a bit slower. I really like to hear all those notes in the theme and offer something other than the familiar vague approximation. Did you know, incidentally, that Rachmaninov confessed to Godowsky in a state of near despair that he often played far too fast? Like certain other modern virtuosi it was a real problem for him.

I completely subscribe to Alan Walker’s theory that comparison of performances is the lowest form of criticism, not to say a proof that a critical faculty is absent. A performance should be compared to one thing only and this is the score. Few can do that, not many more can understand it, and both parties usually have much better things to do than to write reviews. I enjoy comparing performances as a layman, but more often than not I find it harmful, easily degenerating into listening for specific details and missing all the music. I would much sooner take a performance as an end itself and see how I can benefit from it.

Taken on its own terms, Bolet’s 1982 recording of Rachmaninoff’s Third Concerto is superb. It is highly original and beautifully articulated without being in the least dragged or dull. When it’s over, I can indulge in futile comparisons as much as I like, but while I’m listening to it I remain totally convinced that this is the way to play this concerto. No performance can achieve more than that. No complaints about the sound or the conducting, either. The former is crystal clear and spacious, with sonorous Bechstein and plenty of orchestral detail to appreciate, while the latter is accomplished enough not to spoil the overall experience.

PS Some cover photos.

[1] Having discussed the blistering live recording of the Rachmaninoff Third by Horowitz and Barbirolli from May 4, 1941, Mr Schonberg concluded: “If a performance like this impresses modern listeners as too fast, too virtuosic, it cannot be emphasized often enough that tempos were prevailingly much faster half a century ago, and today’s slow tempos actually misrepresent the music.” See Harold Schonberg, Horowitz: His Life and Music, Simon & Schuster, 1992, p. 156. A little earlier (pp. 143-4), Mr Schonberg makes a similar point about Brahms’ D minor Concerto. If Zimerman, Barenboim and Arrau in the 1980s take from 48 to over 50 minutes to go through the whole thing, they make it "sound like a different piece from the one that Horowitz with Toscanini and Walter had played fifty years earlier." Those performances from the mid-1930s took only 39-41 minutes. ( )
1 stem Waldstein | Nov 21, 2015 |
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Forfatter navnRolleHvilken slags forfatterVærk?Status
Rachmaninoff, SergeiKomponistprimær forfatteralle udgaverbekræftet
Bolet, Jorgepianomedforfatternogle udgaverbekræftet
Fischer, Ivanconductormedforfatternogle udgaverbekræftet
Indiana Symphony Orchestramedforfatternogle udgaverbekræftet
London Symphony Orchestramedforfatternogle udgaverbekræftet
Morrison, Bryceliner notesmedforfatternogle udgaverbekræftet
Webb, Charlesconductormedforfatternogle udgaverbekræftet
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Oprindelig udgivelsesdato
Vigtige steder
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Beslægtede film
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This work is for sound recordings which consist solely of the concerto.
Editions which contain additional compositions should be separated into individual works.
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Demands from pianists after seeing the movie Shine have brought this excepted piano solo version of the Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto to life. This arrangement is for advanced duet (two pianos/four hands).

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