Tuesday, April 23, 2024

The NRR Project: Rachmaninoff and Stokowski

Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor

Composed by Sergei Rachmaninoff

Performed by Sergei Rachmaninoff, piano

Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, Leopold Stokowski, conductor

April 1929


The first complete recording of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 took place 28 years after its composition. The piece, written after a four-year creative drought (he dedicated it to his therapist), is one of the composer’s best-loved numbers. This recording features Rachmaninoff himself on piano, with the venerable Leopold Stokowski on the podium leading the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra.

Rachmaninoff was born to relatively well-off parents in Czarist Russia in 1873, and received an excellent schooling in music. His compositional efforts were at first rebuffed; later, they would be seen as a culmination of Romanticism in the vein of Tchaikovsky. An incredible pianist, Rachmaninoff would turn to a life of primarily performing after his and his family’s escape from the newly formed Soviet Union in 1918.

Stokowski was already earning a reputation as an impressive conductor who specialized in 19th and 20th century music. He was known for conducting without a bat0on, one of the first to do so. He led the Philadelphia Orchestra from 1912 to 1941.

Some critics have called this performance perfunctory, but it is still as close as we will get to hearing a Rachmaninoff composition as he intended it to be heard. With its lyric, flowing style, it is one of the last compositions in the Romantic manner.

The National Recording Registry Project tracks one writer’s expedition through all the recordings in the National Recording Registry in chronological order. Next up: Pony Blues.



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