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Hyperion Records

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Photo of Sergei Rachmaninov.
Lebrecht Music and Arts Photo Library
Track(s) taken from CDA67501/2
Recording details: May 2004
Eugene McDermott Concert Hall, Morton H Meyerson Symphony Center, Dallas, USA
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Jeff Mee
Release date: October 2004
Total duration: 38 minutes 17 seconds

'Carefully considered interpretations despatched with consummate musicianship and virtuosity, and using as their inspiration Rachmaninov's own recordings' (The Mail on Sunday)

'Hough. Litton. Rachmaninov concertos. Hyperion. Already a mouth-watering prospect, is it not? So, like the old Fry's Five Boys chocolate advert, does Anticipation match Realisation in these five much recorded confections? The answer is 'yes' on almost every level' (Gramophone)

'Overall, these live concert recordings stand out in a field jam-packed with first-rate Rachmaninov concerto cycles' (BBC Music Magazine)

'This is fin-de-siècle musical romance moulded with perception, and Hough himself is on magnificent form … Hough's set takes the palm as the pre-eminent digital edition of the Rachmaninov piano concertos' (The Independent)

'The freshness and joy in rediscovering well-worn masterpieces are everywhere in evidence in Hough's playing … If you think you have heard these pieces once too often, this is the recording to help you rediscover their intimacies and their emotional sweep' (The Daily Telegraph)

'What Hough has come up with is much fleeter and leaner than the overripe romantic effects usually lavished on these concertos … he keeps the music on the move, carefully regulating its ebb and flow, so that Rachmaninov’s melodies float above the harmonic feints and sidesteps … As fine as anything Hough has done on disc to date' (The Guardian)

'Hough shares with Rachmaninov a precision, a rhythmic energy, a quite beautiful singing tone and—perhaps most important in these dense textures—an unerring clarity … A superb achievement, and that's all that needs to be said' (International Record Review)

'Hough's melodic subtlety is well matched by conductor Andrew Litton, and even Rachmaninophobes will be won over by their Paganini Rhapsody' (The Independent on Sunday)

'Stephen Hough is a pianist of immense finesse, who is incapable of playing a vulgar or exaggerated note. And he has a steely technique, secure enough to carry him through four live recordings—which these are—with barely a slip … this is a wonderful release … Hough and Litton are more than scholars: they make living, flaming music from the ebbing and flowing speeds, the soloist's improvisatory airs, or the strings' willingness to revive the old portamento slide. The waves of energy at the finale's end are very exciting: no wonder the Dallas audience break out in cheers' (The Times)

'These are exhilarating performances, freshly conceived and texturally pristine … With such committed advocacy and technical bravura, Hough's interpretations demand to be heard' (The Sunday Times)

'These are outstanding performances. The recordings capture the excitement of the live concerts, including applause at the end of the concertos but there's very little audience noise and the sound is thrilling and immediate. This is a release that's bound to win all the awards' (Classic FM Magazine)

'An electrifying double-disc set' (The Scotsman)

'These rank among the most illuminating—and most compelling—performances in the catalog. Whether you're a Rachmaninov addict looking for fresh perspectives on the music or a neophyte looking for the cycle in up-to-date sound, Hough and Litton can be recommended without hesitation' (Fanfare, USA)

'An exciting new Rachmaninov set that's definitely not to be missed' (HMV Choice)

'Stephen Hough and Andrew Litton cut a swathe through the decades-long undergrowth of bad tradition, revealing leaner, more potent works in the process … A terrific achievement' (The Evening Standard)

'The spark of these live performances has survived inevitable patching sessions to place Stephen Hough's complete account of Rachmaninov's works for piano and orchestra into the top flight' (Music Week)

'This is the best set of Rachmaninov Piano Concertos ever recorded. You have no idea how hard I worked not to come to this conclusion, knowing full well just how skeptically such a claim is likely to be received. I compared Stephen Hough to multiple Ashkenazy renditions, to Earl Wild, to Zoltan Kocsis, to Argerich, Rubinstein, Richter, Rodriguez, and Horowitz. I ploughed through several obscure Russian recordings, two cycles on Naxos, and a slew of EMIs. I re-auditioned Pletnev and sampled two separate remasterings of Rachmaninov's own performances. I listened with scores, then waited a few days, and then tried again without them. I played these discs to colleagues, to friends, and to people whose musical judgment I trust as much if not more than my own. But the conclusion was inescapable: there never has been a complete cycle at this level of consistent excellence. There's no doubt about it' (ClassicsToday.com)

Piano Concerto No 3 in D minor, Op 30
composer
28 November 1909

View whole album
This recording is not available for download
Finale: Alla breve  [13'21]

Other recordings available for download
Vladimir Horowitz (piano), New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, John Barbirolli (conductor)
Lev Oborin (piano), USSR State Orchestra, Konstantin Ivanov (conductor)
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Between the composition of the second and third concertos Rachmaninov married his cousin, Natalya Satina – not before getting the necessary dispensation from the Tsar. Despite a number of serious ailments, including bouts of angina, and the pressures of a young family, his three-pronged career as composer-pianist-conductor advanced on all fronts, creating problems by its very success. He completed Francesca da Rimini, composed a further opera (The Miserly Knight), and fulfilled a temporary conducting contract with the Bolshoy Theatre so successfully that he was offered the post of musical director there, as well as taking charge of orchestral concerts. In 1906–7 he wintered in Dresden, largely to avoid the temptation to conduct and instead to forge ahead with composing his Second Symphony and his First Piano Sonata. At this stage still much exercised by financial worries, he had the confidence-raising prospect of a lucrative American tour as pianist, for which he had in mind a third concerto.

This work was largely composed in the summer of 1909 at Ivanovka, though its conception probably goes back two or three years before that, and it was finished in Moscow that September. It was dedicated to Josef Hofmann, who, however, never played it. Rachmaninov practised the fiendishly demanding solo part on a dummy keyboard during his Atlantic crossing, before giving the premiere on 28 November 1909 with the New York Symphony Orchestra under Walter Damrosch in New York’s New Theater. The American critics were not yet disposed to rave about Rachmaninov as a composer, even though, or perhaps because, the reputation of his C sharp minor Prelude preceded him, as it had done ten years earlier in Britain. After the premiere the New York Sun declared, ‘sound, reasonable music, this, though not a great nor memorable proclamation’; and in general the best the press had to say about the Third Concerto was that it put the Second in the shade. Rachmaninov for his part took badly to what he saw as the pervasiveness of the American business ethic, and despite thunderous audience acclaim he found the American public cold.

Nineteen days after the premiere, he played the new concerto with the New York Philharmonic under Gustav Mahler at Carnegie Hall, professing admiration for the Austrian maestro’s attention to detail and his ability to make the musicians stay on, unprotesting, long after the scheduled end of a rehearsal. On 4 April 1910 he introduced the concerto to Russia, with the Moscow Philharmonic conducted by Evgeny Plotnikov. Russian critical responses were warmer than those of their American counterparts, but in general European critics considered the work more as a splendid vehicle for Rachmaninov’s pianism than as a noteworthy composition in its own right. Even so, only a few years later the Third Concerto’s success had become so colossal that even as self-confident a spirit as Prokofiev was intimidated by the piece and determined to outdo it with his even more gargantuan Piano Concerto No 2.

The D minor Concerto opens with a sense of palpable anticipation; anyone bar the first-time listener knows that this modest pulsation is going to unleash waves of astonishing power and energy. The opening paragraphs are in a constant state of becoming. The strings are kept muted while the tempo accelerates, and ideas spin off that will germinate further on – such as the trumpet counterpoint that will soon support the second subject, on strings alone, before the piano is sent into dreamy raptures by it. Once again the ability to rhapsodize without sacrificing tautly disciplined thematic working brings to fruition everything Rachmaninov had learned from Taneyev and, indirectly, from Tchaikovsky. The remainder of the exposition is again built on a series of accelerandos. And all this is but preparation for the colossal accumulation of the development section. This initially dips down, gathering energy for the ascent, and in its course Rachmaninov goes through a bewildering succession of different keys while maintaining unwavering control of their overall trajectory (regulated by the bass line on cellos and double basses, from the breakthrough climax to the entry of the cadenza). Among his second thoughts for streamlining the piece were to provide the first movement with a less densely packed cadenza than the original (Stephen Hough plays this revision, as does the composer himself on his single recording of the work, made with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Eugene Ormandy in 1939–40). After its titanic climax the cadenza enters a relaxation phase, supporting snippets of the opening theme on flute, oboe, clarinet and horn in turn, and the movement concludes with a brief review of all the material, the last few bars marked accelerando, in conformity with the main structural principle established in the initial phases.

As in the Second Concerto, the slow movement starts by bridging the harmonic gap from the previous one. This process is greatly magnified, and once again the main ideas are all in a greater state of tonal flux than their counterparts in Rachmaninov’s previous concertos. Does the soloist’s opening flourish – rooted on F sharp minor with added sixth – define the home key, as it thrusts away the orchestra’s continuing attachment to D minor? Or is its subsequent descent into D flat major the defining moment? (Rachmaninov’s notated key signatures tell their own story, interestingly at odds with the music’s surface orientation.) A hyper-passionate climax seems to purge the movement of its expressive longings, and a mercurial F sharp minor episode fleetingly recalls the main first movement theme, now woven around the piano’s repeated-note figurations. Now that the piano has temporarily got the urge to rhapsodize out of its system, it pushes through to a mini-cadenza, which serves as a characteristically hyperbolic upbeat to the finale.

Music as firmly rooted in tradition as Rachmaninov’s always draws on the vast stock of archetypes inherited from the nineteenth century, skirting the edges of allusion and quotation. But the opening paragraph of the finale is closer than anything else in the Third Concerto to outright quotation, paraphrasing as it does Rimksy-Korsakov’s Russian Easter Festival Overture. This reference in turn lends support to those who would trace religious imagery in the work back to its chant-like opening theme (a connection that Rachmaninov himself always brushed aside as fortuitous, despite his own devout Orthodox nature, and despite being steeped in the Church’s musical traditions). A foretaste of the heroic victory to come, built on the piano’s galloping left-hand syncopations, eventually subsides into a long chain of episodes, initially fairly relaxed but gradually building into a vast accompanied cadenza (which the composer significantly cut when he made his recording). This central phase is cadenza-like both for the pianist – in its swirling toccata figurations – and for the composer – in its subtly crafted references back to the first two movements at the same time as it works over the finale’s own ideas. As with the Second Symphony, the finale features a redemptive wide-spanning theme, with piano and orchestra at last united in a paean of praise to an unspecified higher power.

from notes by David Fanning © 2004


Other albums featuring this work
'Tchaikovsky & Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos' (APR5519)
Tchaikovsky & Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos
MP3 £6.99FLAC £6.99ALAC £6.99 APR5519  Download only  
'Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos' (APR6005)
Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos
MP3 £7.99FLAC £7.99ALAC £7.99 APR6005  2CDs for the price of 1 — Download only  
'Rachmaninov: The Piano Concertos' (SACDA67501/2)
Rachmaninov: The Piano Concertos
This album is not yet available for download SACDA67501/2  2CDs Super-Audio CD — Deleted  

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