I’ve already posted a wonderful performance of Rachmaninoff’s 2nd symphony, but the recent Prom included another moving version, conducted by Thomas Dausgaard. I Like the Cut of his Jib, as Adrian Chiles observed prophetically about Guus Hiddink’s managing of the South Korean football team in 2002. Nor is the BBC Scottish to be sniffed at. I loved their Mahler 5 at the 2015 Proms, with Donald Runnicles.
With typical Prom flair, the concerto and symphony were introduced by concert versions of Orthodox liturgy sung by the Latvian radio choir. You can find the whole concert here for the next month.
After the 3rd piano concerto, the encore of Vocalise led me to Rachmaninoff’s 1929 studio recording of his orchestral version:
Of all versions, you can’t beat it on theremin:
We can never unhear the soundscape of our times. As I continue to bask in Hélène Grimaud, Rachmaninoff’s 2nd piano concerto (1902) comes with a lot of accumulated baggage, which may both blur and enrich our appreciation. The most obvious instance is the soundtrack of Brief encounter.
Even for me, growing up in the swinging 60s, this is an inescapable association—let alone for my parents’ generation, for whom the story of the wife’s reluctant retreat from a life-enhancing affair back to a stultifying marriage would have been still more telling, and modern, than for more recent audiences in similar situations. Readily parodied, the film must have meant a lot when it was released—in 1945, of all times (the play by Nöel Coward dates from 1936; it was at his insistence that the concerto was later used for the film). And then we might try and think ourselves back to 1902 when Rachmaninoff completed it…
Whether or not we can (or wish to) put all this aside, it’s a magical concerto—especially with Hélène Grimaud:
And while I’m on Rachmaninoff, I can’t believe I never got to play the 2nd symphony, also overwhelming… Of all the versions, I’m attached to this:
This seems to be an exception to my rule that our experience of all kinds of music is enriched by early associations. Not only have I never played it, I only got to know it properly over the last few years.