Rachmaninov - Piano Concerto No. 3

Jane Jones' all-time favourite piece is the fiendishly difficult Rach 3.

The Rach 3 has topped my Hall of Fame for years – literally! And Rachmaninov himself said that the third was his personal favourite amongst his piano concertos, even though he stopped playing it in concerts when he realized there were others who could master his range of themes, melodies and thrilling climaxes.

This concerto, famously one of the most difficult and physically demanding for pianists, has got everything! Maybe that’s no surprise when there was a lot riding on it – Rachmaninov had moved with his family to Dresden in 1906, desperate to get some quiet time away from his busy schedule of playing and conducting, and I sense he was investing a great deal in whatever came out of the Dresden stay. 

From the subtle opening which sets the pulse of the first movement, the melody unfolds as though the piano is singing quietly to itself. It’s a theme which Rachmaninov declared ‘wrote itself’ when he’d heard it ready made in his head. I love the way the piano and orchestra share ideas – it’s as though there’s an intricate conversation going on until the piano comes to dominate with the build-up to the first movement’s march and full blown ending.

But then at the start of the second movement, the tables are turned and it’s the lovely nostalgic sound of the strings which melts the heart. The piano is respectful and reflective, even when there’s a waltz which picks up to the pace as the second movement moves seamlessly into the powerful, fabulous finale. You know the big finish is coming.  There’s such virtuosity demanded of the soloist, it’s breathtaking, and the orchestral players, in particular the brass, flex their muscles ready to thrill you for the final minutes.

On Wednesday, I've got one of those five star performances featuring one of our current great Rachamaninov interpreters – Vladimir Ashkenazy. He brings out the delicacy and soulfulness of the music, but is utterly in control for those trademark thundering chords that are pure Rachmaninov.