Notes and Editorial Reviews
Leif Ove Andnes has completed his recorded cycle of the Rachmaninov Piano Concertos with the release of Concertos Nos. 3 and 4 with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Antonio Pappano. This new release follows the pianist and conductor’s Gramophone Award-winning recording of Concertos Nos. 1 and 2.
Press reviews of concerts preceding the current recordings note the “quiet luminosity and luxuriant tone” (The Independent) and describe the performances as “refreshing and absorbing" (www.classicalsource.com), “stunning…spellbinding” (The Telegraph), and “teeming with detail and subtle shifts of light” (The Guardian). “It’s interesting that such an impulsive interpreter [as Pappano] has forged an enduring partnership
with the pianist Leif Ove Andsnes. The two now have a pedigree in the studio and in the concert hall with the Rachmaninov piano concertos that spans almost six years, perhaps founded on the meeting of Andsnes’s fastidious lyricism and Pappano’s emotional honesty.” (The Times)
“Rachmaninov is a major challenge for pianists,” Andsnes said recently. “He was one of the greatest pianists who ever lived and he was famous for having large hands, so there’s a lot of chordal writing and an array of technical challenges. But at the same time it’s such great music and it’s a physical pleasure to play because it’s so well written for the piano.”
“People often make this music too percussive and too vertical for my tastes. Rachmaninov made waves in the music, starting quietly and building it up and there is always movement and rubato in his playing. Today maybe some of these rubatos might feel a little foreign, or a little old-fashioned, even if Rachmaninov was a very modern pianist for his time, but I think we can learn so much from that flexibility.”
Sergei Rachmaninov composed his third piano concerto in Russia. His incentive was an extended concert tour of the United States that, although it would separate him from his family for a long period, would enable him to return to Russia with enough money to purchase his first motor car. The concerto was dedicated to the great pianist Josef Hofmann, who never played it in public, possibly because his relatively small hands could not manage the spans required. After practicing his part on a dummy piano during the voyage to New York, Rachmaninov premiered the concerto in November 1909 with the Symphony Society of New York under Walter Damrosch, all performing from manuscripts because there had been no time to print the score.
Even more memorable than the premiere, from the composer’s point of view, was his rehearsal for the second performance two months later with the New York Philharmonic under the baton of Gustav Mahler, about which he spoke and wrote extensively: “He touched my composer’s heart straightaway by devoting himself to my concerto until the accompaniment, which is rather complicated, had been practiced to the point of perfection… According to Mahler, every detail of the score was important – an attitude which is unfortunately rare among conductors.” Andsnes performs the second, bigger, cadenza “not as pianistic but I think it is so rich and becomes the peak of the movement.”
Rachmaninov’s Concerto No. 4 also has an American connection. In the winter of 1925-26, in need of financial security following his escape from revolutionary Russia, Rachmaninov decided to establish himself once again on the lucrative American concert circuit, using his formidable technical skills and phenomenal memory to build a large repertoire for the purpose of performing and recording. The concerto is dedicated to his friend and fellow Russian composer, Nikolai Medtner. “The Fourth Concerto is a 20th-century concerto,” says Andsnes. “Something changes between the Third, which hangs on to the 19th century, and the Fourth.” This is likely related to ‘new’ music Rachmaninov had been hearing – works by Schoenberg, Bartók, Gershwin and others. The premiere of the Fourth Concerto in Philadelphia with Leopold Stokowski in 1927 was fairly well received but after criticism from reviewers following the New York premiere, Rachmaninov heavily revised the score. Leif Ove Andsnes performs the 1941 revision. “One of the reasons No. 4 is not as popular as the others is not only the lack of big tunes for the audience but because it’s so hard to perform, especially between the pianist and orchestra” says Andsnes. “But I’m sure it will be only a decade or so before the Fourth becomes standard repertoire. It has such quality. It just needs to be performed really well.”
An exclusive EMI Classics artist, Leif Ove Andsnes has recorded more than 30 discs spanning repertoire from Bach to the present day. Recent releases include Shadows of Silence, featuring works by Bent Sørensen, Marc-André Dalbavie, Witold Lutos?awski and Gyorgy Kurtág and Pictures Reframed, a joint project with the South African artist Robin Rhode in which Andsnes plays Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition while Rhode’s illustrations and films, inspired by the piece, are projected onto a specially designed stage set. To date Andsnes’s recordings have won four Gramophone awards and seven Grammy nominations. Andsnes himself has received the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Instrumentalist Award and the Gilmore Artist Award, as well as various honours in his native Norway.
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Piano no 3 in D minor, Op. 30 by Sergei Rachmaninov
Leif Ove Andsnes (Piano)
London Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1909; Russia
Concerto for Piano no 4 in G minor, Op. 40 by Sergei Rachmaninov
Leif Ove Andsnes (Piano)
London Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1926/1941; USA
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