The Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 is one of the chestnuts of classical music, so much so that pop musicians have been stealing melodies from it for decades. Eric Carmen, Celine Dion, on and on. The concerto is so popular that many classical music fans tire of its constant repetition in concert halls across the country.
Well, it is tiring to hear mediocre pianos and orchestras attempt to milk the popular piece for claps. I have heard this piece played so badly it almost made me walk out in disgust. The piano player actually skipped about a dozen measures the last attempt I heard. But oh, the crowd loved it. After all, all the masses require is a few strains of familiar melody before they erupt in rapture.
In addition to the many mediocre performances are many recordings that are adequate but uninspiring performances of the piece — no doubt by pianists and conductors who are sick and tired of doing this most popular piece over and over just so the orchestra can raise funds to continue. The piano is usually overrun by the orchestra or is so blurry in the recordings that you have to feel sorry for the pianist for learning so many notes that are never appreciated.
Here, however, is a recording that is as perfect as I have ever heard. Every note is clear. I don’t even know for sure who did this. But it is a brilliant recording, as much a tribute to the producers who placed the microphones in the right spots as to the performers who responded to knowing their efforts would be accurately (and completely) reflected in the recording — a frightening prospect!
Remember, if you hear a melody in this concerto that you recognize and say, “Oh, they did that on ‘Saturday Night Live!!'” or something, forget it. Every melody in this famous and revered piece is Rachmaninoff’s alone; if you have heard it elsewhere, it is because somebody later stole it — including “Saturday Night Live,” which hilariously adapted dozens of pop songs to the third movement’s famous melody.