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Rachmaninoff "Piano Concerto No. 5"

I was certainly surprised to find on YouTube links to videos of a fifth piano concerto by Sergei Rachmaninoff.  I quickly discovered (after listening for a few seconds) that this was an arrangement of Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony for piano and orchestra.  The arrangement is by pianist Alexander Warenberg (about whom I know nothing).  Apparently the project was approved by the Rachmaninoff estate (maybe due to the bad economy and copyrights expiring on Rachmaninoff’s works), and there are various performances on YouTube available.  As far as anyone knows, Rachmaninoff himself never intended to convert his most famous symphony into a piano concerto.  Therefore it’s hard not to be extremely critical and skeptical about such a project.  Despite approaching the recordings with this mindset, I loved the music.  Not surprising, as it is Rachmaninoff’s music after all, and there is not much music that is more lyrical, emotional, or powerful than his 2nd Symphony.  It is certainly interesting to hear the symphony is this new way, with Rachmaninoff-style piano accompaniment.  Having said this, it should be emphasized that the original symphony is much better.  Warenberg has trimmed the original four movements to three.  He eliminated the scherzo movement and moved the fugue-like passage from this movement to the third movement.  The first movement is the most significantly damaged structure of the symphony.  The long lugubrious introduction of the original is cut short to allow an early entrance of the soloist, disrupting the balance of the movement.  As for the piano writing, most of it sounds like what Rachmaninoff would write, including some nearly direct quotes from the “real” piano concertos (a quote from the beginning of the First Concerto seems a tad out of place).  Occasionally the textures seem a little overwrought or odd, e.g. a section in the first movement that uses a repeated glissando figure doesn’t seem to match the music well.  (Rachmaninoff was pretty sparing in his glissando use: there is one use in the Third Concerto and it is so subtle you can easily not notice it.)  Overall though Mr. Warenberg did a good job with this arrangement.  It is fun to listen to as long as you realize it is not Rachmaninoff’s arrangement and not really his Fifth Concerto.  I guess the point is that Rachmaninoff’s music sounds good whether adapted by Mr. Warenberg or by Barry Manilow.

By mannd

I am a retired cardiac electrophysiologist who has worked both in private practice in Louisville, Kentucky and as a Professor of Medicine at the University of Colorado in Denver. I am interested not only in medicine, but also in computer programming, music, science fiction, fantasy, 30s pulp literature, and a whole lot more.

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