Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto no.2 (Nikolaï Lugansky / Orchestre National de France)

Duration : 42 minutes

Conducted by Emmanuel Krivine, the Orchestre National de France, alongside Nikolaï Lugansky, performs Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto no.2. Excerpt of the concert recorded on 18 October 2018 at the Radio France Auditorium, Paris.

There is something almost "novelesque" about the way Rachmaninoff created his Piano Concerto no.2, ten years after composing his first piano concerto (which was revised in 1917).

We must look back to the concert on 15 March 1897, during which the composer's Symphony no.1 was premiered. The new work was so poorly performed that evening by its performers, and so little defended by critics in the following days (César Cui, in particular, was very critical regarding the new symphony), that Rachmaninov felt insulted, overwhelmed, and wounded. A victim of a severe discouragement, he withdrew completely, dedicating himself solely to performing concert tours in Russia and London, and consoling himself with alcohol, abandoning all compositiong for almost three years. He later admitted to having experienced, on the evening of the concert, "the most painful moment of (his) life".

Rachmaninoff sought the advice of Dr. Niels Dahl, a psychiatrist specialised in hypnosis detoxification who encouraged him to compose another concerto: is the practice of one's art not the simplest and most effective therapy for a suffering artist? Thus was born the Concerto in c minor, introducing a particularly fertile era in Rachmaninoff's career, and to this day one of the most frequently performed concertos of the repertoire (it is quoted in countless films including Brief Encounter and The Seven Year Itch). The concerto's fame long overshadowed Rachmaninoff's three other concertos, adding even more to its pathos. 

The key chosen here by the composer (c minor, similar to the famous Prelude) is that of lyrical outpouring. In fact, the Concerto no.2 is an inexhaustible source of melodies that some people willingly label as sentimental but which is also the expression of a greatly excited soul. The first movement, with its initial bass notes played by the piano and the great theme described by André Lischké as "a powerful swell," is a moment of great effusion, both virile and nostalgic. The entire work swings between these two poles, with an openly virtuosic piano and an orchestra always ready to confess.

The central movement begins gently, with the flute and the clarinet singing the appeasement. Then the music swells (a poco più animato), becomes more and more agitated (più animato) until the orchestra moves into the background and leaves the soloist to fill what appears to be an irrepressible desire for virtuosity.

A singular moment in such a context, which brings a calmness and allows the movement to end gently. The finale first recalls one of the motifs from the first movement, before the piano quickly imposes itself. A brilliant theme, full of confidence, leads the way, followed by a melody both beautiful and sad. A moment of suspension, an attempt at a fugue, before the development of the two main themes leads to a triumphant conclusion in C major.

Written by Christian Wasselin

The Orchestre National de France performs Moussorgsky, Dvořák, and Rachmaninoff with Nikolaï Lugansky
Full concert
The Orchestre National de France performs Moussorgsky, Dvořák, and Rachmaninoff with Nikolaï Lugansky
Maison de la Radio, Paris
Sergei Rachmaninoff
Sergei Rachmaninoff
All artists
  • Emmanuel Krivine
    Emmanuel KrivineConductor
  • Orchestre National de FranceOrchestra
  • Nikolai LuganskyPerformer