Rachmaninov's fourth piano concerto is often overlooked compared with his uber-famous second and notoriously difficult third. But it contains his trademark luscious melodies, juicy harmonies and it references the ancient chant for the dead, Dies Irae.
British pianist Kathryn Stott has been a regular visitor to New Zealand and is well-loved by audiences around the world for her engaging playing and adventurous programming.
Rachmaninov wrote four piano concertos, as well as the famous Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini, and he was the soloist at the premieres of each.
But of all these pieces, the fourth piano concerto is probably the least well-known and the most rarely performed, outside of Russia at least. This is probably because it is not as obvious, not as 'in-your-face' as those other works.
The interest is not so much in the intrinsic beauty of the themes as in what happens to them, which is quite unpredictable. This is particularly so in the 1st and 3rd movements, and gives the concerto a surprisingly modern feel to it, even with influences of jazz and Gershwin, whose Rhapsody in Blue Rachmaninov is known to have heard.
The fourth piano concerto was the first of the major works Rachmaninov wrote after leaving Russia and settling in the USA, and it had a checkered history.
He wrote it in 1926, and revised it somewhat before the first performance in Philadelphia in 1927, which was conducted by Leopold Stokowski. The audience response was enthusiastic, but it wasn’t well received by the critics, with one New York commentator saying it was “long-winded, tiresome, unimportant, in places tawdry”, so the distraught composer revised it further before publishing it.
However, the next performance in 1929 also suffered poor reviews.
Unsure what to do, he left it alone for over a decade, and it wasn’t until 1941 that he made further substantial revisions, performing the revised version in October 1941.
To his disappointment the critics were still sniffy about it, and it has never gained the popularity of the second and third concertos, or the Paganini Rhapsody.
Recorded by RNZ Concert in Auckland Town Hall, 3 May 2017
Producer: Tim Dodd
Engineer: Adrian Hollay