Review Summary: One of the greatest masterpieces made by Rachmaninoff and possibly of the 20th century.
The music world has had a lot of heroes and geniuses throughout the centuries. For each century and genre, these people would influence artists in the next generation into the present. Of many, examples include Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig Van Beethoven in the classical music genre, who influenced the minds of Peter Tchaikovsky, Frederic Chopin, and Felix Mendelssohn. These men had influenced many other composers from the 20th century on and so forth. But there’s one virtuosic piano genius whose inspirations scream from the possibilities of mankind quite loudly to create something of pure genius. That guy was Sergei Rachmaninoff, a man with piano skills beyond anything normal. The talent he had plagued him for a while when the massive failure of his first Symphony drove him into the ditches, where he would hid for a while and attempt to find healing. He would eventually find it in his psychiatrist, who persuaded him that he could create a masterpiece. With his newfound inspiration and his incredible virtuosity, he created Piano Concerto in C Minor, perhaps one of his undisputed best piano/orchestral works in his very career.
When looking at the Piano Concerto, looking at it as a whole is just not enough. By looking at each movement, you can truly understand how truly incredible the entire piece is. Each movement express different emotions or feelings that were echoing through Rachmaninoff’s mind when he was writing it. The first movement, perhaps the most famous, is just the beginning of a creative display of virtuosic piano playing built into a romantically reminiscent orchestra. It rings in a central theme, creates a dark mood, and commences the concerto on good terms. What is perhaps most exciting about the first movement is the tension created in the middle of the piece that adds up to a highly climactic twist; hearing each of the instruments raise the emphasis on intensity, abrasiveness, and virtuosity while still maintaining control. This is just the first movement.
The second movement slows down the moderately quick paced tempo used in movement one and focuses on resting the listener’s mind and preparing it for the final part. It more shows an expression of romanticism rather than the first movement’s more contemporary virtuosic theme. This is an excellently balanced move by Rachmaninoff, continuing a traditional concerto prototype: moderate, slow, fast. You get to better analyze the composer’s romantic side of the concerto, seeing that the orchestra still has some liberty and dominance, not being overly restricted by the piano, which would normally be prominent. This is another great choice in creating a perfect balance and chemistry in this concerto.
Listening to the first two movements is only a small preview for the outstanding finale. There is hardly any possible way the audience could prepare for the final movement, which goes over the top with virtuosity and commences into something very, classically turbulent. This should be noticeable through the constant flurries of notes between the piano and the orchestra, snaking up and down the scales. This packs high intensity into one massive package of musical journey to the ultimate climax: an explosion of bombast and a fanfaresque ending that goes beyond anything ordinary. It turns into something incredibly amazing.
Rachmaninoff has a brilliant strength: his talent in the piano and the ability to blend it extravagantly well with any other instrument or ensemble. That’s how he learned from his mistake, which was his first symphony. It lacked emphasis in piano works, and was quite undeveloped with an orchestra. To move from something flawed to a masterpiece is almost unthinkable. But by using his piano expertise, he baptized his future music in a beautiful dressing of artwork, virtuosity, and diversity, which helped his piano playing in Piano Concerto No. 2 become masterful.
In the Second Piano Concerto, Rachmaninoff has also shifted from undeveloped to a more capably developed composer. In the course of a decade, he learned to move less toward the act of overindulgence, but rather closer to a purer level of honest playing. That’s a key component to the concerto’s success. This also gives him more room for serious composition, which includes more attention to not just the orchestra, but also the piano. I think that is something that Rachmaninoff changed and improved on when working with his psychiatrist. The quest to create a cohesive, abrasive, virtuosic, spastic, organized, and monolithically enjoyable work of art had been pushed to a highly tuned point that he had to make it perfect. Otherwise, what would it be worth?
That is why this piece was a glorified success. If echoes from all corners of the world a single part of Rachmaninoff’s legacy, as well as creates the trademark symbol of what proper virtuosity is all about. It also is a successful test of chemistry between the soloist and the ensemble. Finally, this piece demonstrates the power and the desire to compose something over the top. All of this is what makes Piano Concerto in C Minor, No 2, Op 18 a pure essence and a masterpiece of the late romantic and early contemporary period, perhaps the 20th century.