Review Summary: One of the finest ever composers for piano teach us exactly how it’s done.
Born towards the end of the Romantic period in musical history, Rachmaninoff was introduced to an era where dissonance was becoming less subtle, strong emotions were more effusively expressed in music, and the fortepiano had evolved into the pianoforte and was becoming the grand piano as we know it today. Rachmaninoff was not a great innovator towards early 20th Century styles, but is commonly cited as one of the last great representatives of Romanticism in the Russian classical tradition, and his music still stands popular today with those whose tastes veer towards classical music.
My love for Rachmaninoff started when I heard his infamous Prelude in C-sharp Minor from his third opus. This piece captivated me. Its brooding opening, its frantic mid-section, and an ending that could soundtrack the most devastating of tragedies made me fall in love with this composer’s music. It was pure emotion perfectly and directly translated into music.
After hearing this I decided to seek out more of Rachmaninoff’s piano works and found this collection of preludes. Just over half an hour in length, Rachmaninoff decides it’s time to show us the many facets of the piano. By alternating minor and major keys every prelude, Rachmaninoff displays a colourful array of emotions: from the soaring and majestic Prelude in B-flat Major; to the solemn, texture-changing expedition of Prelude in D minor, Rachmaninoff proves once again that he is not only a technically proficient master of the piano but can carve out various emotions effortlessly.
The most famous piece from this opus, and one that I’d most recommend, would be Prelude in G minor. A creeping theme in a minor key, big block piano chords, virtuosic arpeggios underneath a gorgeous melody, a climax during which the pianist is instructed to beat the piano as though it owes him money – this piece has all the trademarks of what makes Rachmaninoff unique and probably more accessible than most other ‘classical’ composers.
This opus is an instant recommendation to anyone who enjoys piano virtuoso, or anyone who has an appreciation for the Russian Romantic style. This opus may not be as tightly put together as his piano concertos, but Rachmaninoff certainly doesn’t disappoint with this alluring and diverse collection of preludes.