Member of The Rachmaninoff Society
Much of the information in this page is based on Scott Colebank's (of Prairie Village of Kansas, USA) Discography of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30. I'm extremely grateful to Mr. Colebank for his research on the Third Concerto and his permission to allow me to create this page based on his research. Please see below for more information about Mr. Colebank's research on the Third Concerto and how you can contact The Rachmaninoff Society.
These views are my own and do not represent those of The Rachmaninoff Society, Mr. Scott Colebank nor the National University of Singapore. Kindly send your views and comments to Kar-Gee, Tan. This is my first-ever attempt to create an HTML page and I hope to be able to improve on it in terms of contents and presentation. So, your suggestions and constructive criticism will be kindly appreciated.
The Third (as it will be known for the rest of this article) was completed as a major composition which Rachmaninoff would "show off" in New York in 1909 during his first concert tour of USA. He wrote the work in the peace of his family's country estate, Ivanovka, and it was completed on 23 September 1909 (Julian Calendar). (NB. All subsequent dates are in Gregorian calendar, unless otherwise stated.) Due to time constraints, Rachmaninoff was unable to practise it on an actual keyboard in Russia and had to do it on a silent keyboard during his voyage across the Atlantic Ocean on board a ship. The Third was dedicated to Josef Hofmann, who, though regarded by Rachmaninoff as the greatest pianist of the day, did not play the Third in his lifetime.
The Third was premiered on 28 November 1909 with Rachmaninoff himself at the keyboard, joined by Symphony Society of New York at the New Theatre, New York, under Walter Damrosch. On 16 January 1910, he repeated the Third at Carnegie Hall with the New York Philharmonic under Gustav Mahler. It was reported that both great musicians had great respect and admiration for each other.
The first ever recording of the Third was done by none other than Vladimir Horowitz, who recorded it in 1930 with Albert Coates. Incidentally, Horowitz also recorded the Third 3 more times in his lifetime, including one with Serge Koussevitsky in 1950, the well-known recording with Fritz Reiner the following year, and the live recording with Eugene Ormandy in 1978. Of the four recordings, many favour the one with Reiner, but I would encourage you to try out the earliest one with Coates.
Those of you who thought Rachmaninoff himself recorded the 2nd earliest Third, sorry, no points for that!! The second ever recording of the Third was by Walter Gieseking with Sir John Barbirolli in 1939, about 10 months before Rachmaninoff did his only recording of the Third (which is now available as part of a mid-price 2-CD set of the complete recordings of ALL his Concertos, including the Rhapsody, on RCA). Despite all the cuts and the very poor sound quality, I would urge all Rachmaninoff fans to listen to this monumental set. THAT is the way, I feel, that the Third should be played.
Gieseking also recorded the next Third (chronologically) with Willem Mengelberg about 3 months later. This is the one that you can find on the Music & Arts label, but, except for historical interest, please avoid that!! The sound quality is rather poor (compared with Rachmaninoff's or Horowitz's 1930); the playing is far from phenomenal and worst of all, Mengelberg had his own idea about the orchestral parts of the Concerto (including some extra timpani rolls, I remember)! I would rather you listen to Rachmaninoff himself!!
Of course I cannot possibly list ALL early recordings here. Those of you who are interested, please write to Mr. Colebank.
Like Horowitz, Vladimir Ashkenazy has made four recordings of the Third. A couple of others recorded it three times, including the now seldom heard-about Alexis Weissenberg. More about one of Weissenberg's recordings later.
Of course there must have been many others who have PERFORMED (but not RECORDED) the Third countless number of times, but I have no idea if anyone had kept track of the number of times the Third has been PERFORMED since 1909. For a complete discography of ALL recordings of the Third done since 1909 (1930 actually), please write to Mr. Colebank.
As quite well known by now, Rachmaninoff, in his lifetime, allowed cuts to be made to his large scale works during performances, such as the 2nd Symphony. Not surprisingly, four cuts were sanctioned by Rachmaninoff in the Third Concerto and two additional cuts also exist: 2 in each movement. For example, all the four sanctioned by Rachmaninoff were taken in his own recording, presumably, to fit into the 78s. Recordings in the early days were filled with these cuts. These days, recordings with cuts are few and far between. Interestingly, Boris Berezovsky, in his recording for Teldec in 1992, included one of the 3rd movement cuts. Rare for a modern-day recording, indeed.
Two first-movement cadenzas were written: the regular version is more scherzo-like than the alternate version, marked ossia in the score and printed in smaller notes. In more than 100 recordings surveyed (by Mr. Colebank), the number of recordings using the regular cadenza outnumbered those using the ossia by a ratio of two to one.
Interestingly, it took me three or four recordings to realize the existence of the regular cadenza because those I heard as a teen, curiously enough, ALL had the ossia cadenza (Tamás Vásáry, Ashkenazy with Ormandy and Andrei Gavrilov with Alexander Lazarev). I first heard the regular cadenza in the Horowitz 1951 recording. As a record, Horowitz used the regular in three of his four recordings while (in a totally contrasting fashion) Ashkenazy used the ossia in three of his four recordings!! So, which cadenza do you prefer?
In my teens, Ashkenazy/Ormandy stayed on top of my list for quite some time (one of the first few CDs I purchased after switching from cassettes to CDs) before I started feeling that the Third needed to sound less "mild", less "level-headed", and more "heart-stopping" than what I was hearing. This all started after I listened to Horowitz (1951) and Rachmaninoff himself. Though I never seriously liked Horowitz's recordings because of his untidiness in the handling (I feel) of some of the quick passages (cf. the brief cadenza before the chordic Vivacissimo at the end of the Concerto in the 1951 recording), I admired the temperament of the performances – exciting and virtuosic, qualities that make you sit breathlessly at the edge of your seat!
Gavrilov/Lazarev (Melodiya), which I've heard since 1986 or 87, remains, till this day, a personal favourite. I've been waiting in vain for more than 5 years now for the re-issue of this recording on CD, and hopefully, with BMG undertaking the re-mastering of old Melodiya recordings, I will see this recording soon. It's been a long time since I heard this (I don't own a cassette player anymore), but those who heard it agree with me tremendously that it is one of the best recordings of the Third available.
After joining The Rachmaninoff Society in 1990, I had the opportunity to come into contact with more Rachmaninoff fans and was fortunate to learn about Mr. Colebank's research on the Third Concerto. After some correspondence with him, I learned that he had heard about 95% of ALL recordings (at that time) of the Third. On his recommendation, I heard, among many, Weissenberg/Prêtre (Georges Prêtre) on RCA, which is one of those CDs I would recommend to anyone anytime. Incidentally, he also thinks very highly of the Gavrilov/Lazarev recording.
Only recently, I found another recording which should be at, or near the top of anyone's all-time favourite – a live performance by Martha Argerich and Riccardo Chailly on Philips. Like many others whom I've spoken with, I felt that the word to describe this recording is "extraordinary". Mr. Colebank thinks that it is "electrifying" and is "unlike any other I've heard". Hear it for yourself.
Especially for the sake of writing this page, I've purchased no less than 3 recordings of the Third in the last three 3 months. One more is on its way. Based on more than 20 recordings I've heard so far, these are a few recordings I think you should not miss if you are a genuine Third Concerto fan:
NB.: I'm sure many of you out there may not share my views. Please feel free to e-mail me to tell me about your favourite recordings.
The Rachmaninoff Society is an international organisation founded in 1990 to encourage and bring into contact all those who appreciate the life and music of the Russian composer, pianist and conductor Rachmaninoff. Please refer to The Rachmaninoff Society Homepage for more information about the Society. Those who are interested to join the Society, please write to (North American friends, please write to Mr. Colebank):
Mr. John Lockyer
4 Springfield Cottages,
New Road, Rotherfield,
East Sussex TN6 3JR,
Mr. Colebank, whose name has appeared time and again on this page, is the Administrator of the North American Chapter of The Rachmaninoff Society. He has spent over 15 years researching and obtaining recordings of the Third Concerto and has self-published an extensive comparative discography of the work. He would appreciate anyone who can inform him of any Third Concerto recordings that may be available in their area. An example of this would be a recording issued by an orchestra for fund-raising purpose in its local area. If you want a complete discography of the Third Concerto (hard copy), or you wish to discuss anything related to the Third Concerto with him, Mr. Colebank can be reached at:
5215 West 64th Terrace
Prairie Village, Kansas
Copyright © Kar-Gee Tan, October 1995