Rachmaninov – Piano Concerto No. 4 – pianist Simon Tedeschi – Sydney Symphony Orchestra

Hola a todos. Here is a splendid performance of Sergei Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No 4 in g minor, Op 40 (1941 Version) with pianist Simon Tedeschi and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra conducted by Benjamin Northey in the Sydney Opera House. This is a performance from 2017 and overall the best one I’ve heard.  Their production crew also did an excellent job of recording it.

Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 4 is neglected compared to his Second and Third concertos, which are the most often performed. This concerto needs to be performed more often. Give the Second and Third Piano Concerti a little break.

The three versions of this concerto: the 1926, 1928, and 1941.

Yes, there are three versions of this concerto. There’s the original 1926 manuscript, which was not well received when it premiered. At that point, Rachmaninov decided to make some cuts in the concerto and other changes in the writing and he published that version in 1928. Well, that version did not going over well either, so apparently fed up with the whole thing at that point, Rachmaninov decided to shelve it. Maybe he felt as some pianists feel if they work on a piece too much — I speak from experience where you sort of become sick of a piece — and need to take a break from it. I suspect all musicians feel that way at some point. I take it that Sergei was tired of working on it, and he may have been asking himself, “What is wrong with people that they don’t like this piece?” But fortunately for el mundo/the world, he eventually got around to working on it again and revised it again. He published that final version in 1941, and that’s the version performed in the video below and the most often performed version today. I’ve heard a performance of the original manuscript and I liked it, but think I prefer the 1941 version. I read that pianist/conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy prefers the 1926 version having conducted it twice and performed it once as piano soloist.

Rachmaninov made cuts and revisions to some of his pieces because he wasn’t pleased with them or they were not well-received. In some instances he made cuts to his music because some people complained that his pieces were too long. He also made cuts to his pieces just to get them performed. He made cuts in the Third Piano Concerto. I’ve heard a recording of a cut Rachmaninov Third and I didn’t like it because I knew sections were missing. I’ve worked on the Third (Piano Concerto No. 3) in its original form so I knew that not all of the piece was there. At one time I had the Third Piano Concerto up to near performance level. I found parts of the third movement the most difficult to get up to tempo, but I’ve not performed it since concerto opportunities are rare unless one has an agent and works as an international concert artist, or takes part in (corrupt) piano competitions, or if one is a local concert artist or — what I call — a “production pianist” and pumps out the repertoire having decades of performance experience. But I’m of the opinion that if one is going to perform Rachmaninov’s music, perform it as he originally wrote it, or in its final version and “approved” by the composer in the case of the Piano Concerto No. 4. Anyway, I accomplished my goal of “learning the Third.” Although as pianist Santiago Rodríguez asked, “Does anyone ever learn the Third?…no matter how long they work on it? It’s a lifelong project.” I completely agree with him. So I moved on to Rachmaninov’s two sonatas for piano which I sort of like better than the Third and they don’t require an Orchestra. But his two sets of Études-Tableaux are much shorter, although most are very demanding, so I became more comfortable with them and they don’t require an Orchestra either.

So what’s there to say about this performance? Well, I have nothing but positive things to say about it. Simon seems so at-ease with the piece. If there were any parts that were especially difficult for him, you wouldn’t know it. This is my favourite performance of this concerto available online at U-toob. Simon plays beautifully. He’s a wonderful pianist. Absolutely. He seemed very relaxed and to thoroughly enjoy himself in this performance. So good to see that and I don’t often see that in performing pianists. They often look concerned, worried or on-edge with performance anxiety which is a very real thing. Simon didn’t seem to have any performance anxiety. He didn’t seem to be the least bit nervous, so it’s good that he was able to enjoy his own performance, as he should. I noticed Simon was smiling to himself while he was accompanying the strings of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra with some piano texture while listening to those superb first violins sitting behind him who had the melody. That begins at 9.35 in the video (or you may want to start it a bit before to lead into that section). Later, listen to how he rattles off those (obviously) well-drilled runs of the third movement. Very clean playing and never an overuse of pedal. In fact, he wasn’t often using pedal and it was not needed. Rachmaninov barely gives the pianist any break in the third movement and the Orchestra is very busy as well. There was superb playing all around in this performance. The Sydney Symphony Orchestra is one of the finest — a really excellent string section; they are amazing — and I enjoyed watching the conductor and the First and Second Concertmasters, and the principal cellist among others.

By the way, the piano in this performance was placed where it should be. Right next to the conductor “within the Orchestra” — as some pianists say — with the First and Second Concertmasters directly behind Simon as it should be.   Yes, Simon and Benjamin were side by side as it should be and had very close eye contact during the performance. The piano wasn’t stuck out on the edge of the stage like a what-not the way it’s done here in the Arrogant Empire/US. Having the piano several feet away from the Orchestra (practically in the audience’s lap) serves no purpose musically whatsoever.

I’ve watched this performance many times and it’s most enjoyable. I never tire of watching it. It’s also extremely well recorded including the camera work which is not always the case with piano concerto performances. There was another performance on U-toob equally as good I would say, but that performance was removed due to the Orchestra from Moscow making a copyright claim. So I was very pleased when I found this outstanding performance from Simon and the Sydney SO.

By the way, the Steinway & Sons Piano he’s playing is one of the finest I’ve heard. Listen to that sparkling treble register. Do they have a Steinway Hamburg Model D, as opposed to a New York Steinway. Also, Simon and Mark (the conductor) seem to have a really good rapport which is very important in concerto performances. Simon uses tasteful amounts of rubato in places and the Orchestra accompanies him accordingly.

Nice to see Simon avoiding the black and white performance tradition/rut of the classical music tradition by wearing a burgundy jacket (it’s very pretty) which matches the arms of his glasses if you look closely.  Chau.—el barrio rosa

4 comments on “Rachmaninov – Piano Concerto No. 4 – pianist Simon Tedeschi – Sydney Symphony Orchestra

  1. Conservatory Student

    Hey – quick question – were you a Performance Major? You’ve mentioned learning the Rachmaninov 3rd and 4th, so just curious. Thx.

    1. el barrio rosa Post author

      “were you a Performance Major?”

      Not officially/formally. I was in the Music Education degree programme with a choral focus and trained as a Chorus Director to work in the public schools. But pianistically I was trained more as if I were a Piano Performance Major. Since my high school days, I’ve always been attracted to the more difficult piano repertoire, and especially interested in Rachmaninov and Scriabin. When I was teaching piano, some of my students would say, “You never play anything easy do you?” I laughed at that because I do play some easier pieces (mood pieces) and they’d had heard some of them occasionally when I played them for them. After a regular diet of Rachmaninov and/or Scriabin, pretty much anything feels easy! As I’m sure you know as a well-trained musician, easier/mood pieces are good for starting a recital (and calming nervousness), for example, rather than starting out blazing. Although some pianists prefer to start out blazing. I’m not one of them. Or after playing one of the Rachmaninov Études-Tableaux, for example, I’d play a slower mood piece by Scriabin or maybe Poulenc or Scarlatti to take a little break. There was only one other student at the Conservatory that I can remember who I was friends with in the Music Education programme who was trained the same way I was, and she played the first movement of the Rachmaninov Second beautifully with the Conservatory Symphony Orchestra after winning the annual Student Soloist Competition one year. Then my organ professor (I was a voice and organ minor for 3 years, as opposed to the required 2 years) wanted me to become an organ major, but after thinking about it I stayed a piano major. I don’t think he liked my decision, but I thought that was best. And I thought a double major would be too much with all that I had going on, including student teaching — which I thoroughly enjoyed; it was a very positive experience and the students were all very respectful of me being a student teacher — in the public schools in the last year.

      Gracias for your comment.

  2. D8

    Beautiful! Thanks, gracias. Rachmaninov is one of my favorite composers. Interesting history about it. I’m enjoying your music articles. 🙂

Fin. The End.