Thursday, October 22, 2015

BUCKET LIST UPDATE No. 239: Listen to Rachmaninoff’s “Third Piano Concerto”

Sergei Rachmaninoff
A year or so ago, I read a really cool article about Russian composer, conductor and pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff, who passed away at the age of 69 in March 1943. Rachmaninoff wrote a number of well known musical pieces, but probably his best known is his “Third Piano Concerto.” While reading this article, it dawned on me that I couldn’t honestly say that I’d ever listened to this world famous musical composition, which is why I added it to my “bucket list” about a year ago.

This past Sunday morning, I got up before daylight and in plenty of time to listen to Rachmaninoff’s “Third Piano Concerto” from start to finish. A quick search on YouTube revealed several complete recordings of this concerto, and I selected a video of Russian pianist Olga Kern’s 2004 performance of the concerto at Carnegie Hall. I listened – and watched – the entire thing and received more than a little pleasure in officially marking this item off my “bucket list.”

For those of you perhaps unfamiliar with Rachmaninoff’s “Third Piano Concerto,” it was composed in 1909. Like most traditional concertos, it was written for a solo instrument (in this case a piano) with an orchestral accompaniment. In this case, Rachmaninoff scored this concerto for a bass drum, two bassoons, two clarinets, cymbals, two flutes, four horns, two oboes, a snare drum, strings, a timpani, three trombones, two trumpets and a tuba.

Rachmaninoff’s “Third Piano Concerto” was first publicly performed at New York City’s New Theater on Nov. 28, 1909. Rachmaninoff played the piano, and he was backed up by the New York Symphony Society. Walter Damrosch, who years later also commissioned the composition of George Gershwin’s famous “Concerto in F,” conducted the orchestra.

If you’d like to listen to Rachmaninoff’s “Third Piano Concerto” for yourself, it’s relatively easy, especially if you do what I did. Just go to YouTube and type “Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto” in the search field. The search results should give you a wide variety of recordings to check out. The one that I listened to was 42 minutes and 35 seconds long.

I listened to the entire concerto from start to finish in one sitting and enjoyed it. I especially enjoyed watching the Olga Kern rendition of the concerto, because a close watching of the performance demonstrated to me just how technically difficult the piece is to perform. It was also interesting to watch the orchestra, especially when taking note of which instruments remained silent through different parts of the piece. If you enjoy listening to Rachmaninoff’s “Third Piano Concerto,” you might want to check out some of his other well known works, including some of his performances of works written by other composers.

In the end, how many of you have listened to Rachmaninoff’s “Third Piano Concerto” in its entirety, from start to finish? What did you think about it? What other outstanding works of music would you recommend? Let us know in the comments section below.

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