Rachmaninoff – Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 18 I. Moderato (Rubinstein)

Moderato, first movement from Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 18

Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Fritz Reiner, conductor
Arthur Rubinstein, piano

The Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18, is a concerto for piano and orchestra, composed by Sergei Rachmaninoff between the autumn of 1900 and April 1901. The second and third movements were first performed with the composer as soloist on 2 December 1900. The complete work was premiered, again with the composer as soloist, on 27 October 1901, with his cousin Alexander Siloti conducting. This piece is one of Rachmaninoff’s most enduring popular pieces, and established his fame as a concerto composer. he opening movement begins with a series of bell-like tolling on the piano that build tension, eventually climaxing in the introduction of the main theme. In this first section, the orchestra carries the Russian-character melody while the piano makes an accompaniment made of arpeggios riddled with half steps. After the statement of the long first theme, a quicker transition follows until the more lyrical second theme, in E flat major, is presented. The agitated and unstable development borrows motives from both themes changing keys very often and giving the melody to different instruments while a new musical idea is slowly formed. The music builds in a huge climax as if the work was going to repeat the first bars of the work, but the recapitulation is going to be quite different. While the orchestra restates the first theme, the piano, that in the other occasion had an accompaniment role, now plays the march-like theme that had been halfway presented in the development, thus making a considerable readjustment in the exposition, as the main theme, played by the orchestra has become an accompaniment. This is followed by a piano solo, which leads into a descending chromatic passage and concluding with an eerie french horn solo. From here the last minutes of the movement are placid until drawn into the agitated coda, and the piece ends in C minor fortissimo.

Quotes from Max Harrison’s “Rachmaninoff: Life, Works, Recordings” and Geoffrey Norris’ “The Master Musicians: Rachmaninoff”

Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873 – 1943)

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