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Rachmaninov said of himself, ‘I am a Russian composer and the land of my birth has influenced my temperament and outlook.’ He wrote his Piano Concerto No.1 when he was still a teenager.
It’s been criticised by some as too derivative, borrowing from the likes of Grieg and Tchaikovsky but, considering that the young Russian had barely reached adulthood when he composed it, it seems churlish to become overly critical.
The work begins with unabashed showmanship, as a vehicle for Rachmaninov’s own accomplished skill at the piano. The young composer seems only too keen to dazzle with virtuoso passages in the outer movements, while the introspective Andante cantabile remains one of his most beautiful yet relatively unappreciated melodies.
As you listen to the concerto, you can’t help but hear the emergence of all the musical skills that were truly to come to fruition in the Piano Concerto No.2. Fiery keyboard passages, heart-wrenching tunes, and sumptuous orchestral accompaniment are all present here, yet came to the fore only some ten years later when work began on Rachmaninov’s second and most famous concerto.
This is a relatively playful work, sowing the seeds of a passionate musical intensity that was to burst forth over the years to come. It may be a slightly immature work – but it’s still an astonishingly accomplished one at that.
Leif Ove Andsnes (piano); Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra; Antonio Pappano (conductor). EMI Classics: 4748132.