Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3, Op. 30 / Suite No. 2

Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra

Philips, 2001


REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck


There is one advantage to rooming with three music majors -- one gets exposed to a wide variety of music. Since the start of the school year, it is not uncommon for jazz, classical, world music or even opera to be blaring forth from the speakers in the living room. I call it Jeff’s Theory of Music Immersion.

Sergei Rachmaninoff was one of the more famous Russian romantic composers of the early 20th century. His skill with the piano is renowned throughout classical music circles, and his music has in turn created divided opinions.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Naturally, this CD does not feature Rachmaninoff himself playing his own compositions, though there are recordings that exist that do. Instead, the primary performer is Martha Argerich, who consistently blows away the audience with her speed and skill. Performing alongside is the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, who proves more than able to hold its own against Ms. Argerich.

The romantic style consisted of wild, epic arrangements, bursting forth with energy and passion, befitting the title of the era. Rachmaninoff’s work fully reflects the characteristics of this type of music. Subdued is most certainly not a word one would use to describe the pieces featured here. In fact, one of the major criticisms leveled against Rachmaninoff was that his music was too over the top and grandiose.

I must respectfully disagree. By delivering his work in such a fashion, Rachmaninoff ensures that the listener will feel something. Couple that with music that is decidedly Russian in scope and one has a great deal to digest.

It is one thing to listen to Elton John or Ben Folds solo every now and then. It is something else altogether to listen to Argerich on this disc. Her playing is in a world of its own; I would have been fascinated by it even without the accompaniment. She effortlessly moves throughout the entire range of the keyboard, hammering out notes in a blistering fashion but never sounding rushed or messy. In one performance, she can evoke a variety of different moods and emotions, exactly the point of the romantics. This is what true virtuosity at the piano sounds like.

As far as classical goes, I would imagine most novice listeners could latch onto Rachmaninoff and truly enjoy what there is to hear for reasons previously mentioned. This is big, bold, brash music that stirs various emotions within the listener. My first listening was like getting a hammer to the head, it so knocked me out with its hugeness. There is a time and place for subtlety, but with Rachmaninoff it has no need to exist.

Rating: A

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