When I was a junior in High School I was chosen to be the alternate to go to Boy's State. (I went to a small school with only one representative and one alternate) At the interview I was asked to describe myself in one word. I said I was a "romantic." Of course, that made everyone laugh, and they asked me to clarify. I tried to explain I didn't necessarily mean romantic, in the "romantic" sense. (am I speaking in circles yet?) I meant romantic in the historical sense. The idea of romanticism in art and culture goes back to the late 18th and 19th century. This was a time of the American (Good) and French (Bad, but necessary) Revolutions. It was a time, in music, that honored soaring melodies and individual technical proficiency. This was the era when the soloist was KING! All the rules and forms were broken. It is still my favorite style of concert music.
Beethoven defined the Romantic Period in music and in my opinion, Rachmaninoff perfected it. He is the last of the great romantic composers. We've already talked about his G minor Prelude and his Vespers. If you haven't yet, click on the link and listen to them. They are simply sublime.
Today I add the First Movement of Rachmaninoff's 2nd Piano concerto, and the entire 3rd Piano Concerto.
We've already talked a little bit about the concerto here and while the principles still apply, these piano concertos are less overtly competitive than Beethoven's First. I think you can still feel that tension which makes the concerto so great and so universal. Notice at about the 9:40 mark of the Horowitz version, the orchestra is trying to take control and it is up to the soloist to bring things back into order.
In the end, it is the haunting Russian melodies that I can't get enough of. They fill my soul with their emptiness. (Yes, like a true romantic, I am now talking in circles) For example listen to around minute three of the part 2. That melody is so beautiful!
I have two versions of his third concerto. The first is from 1939 so the recording is really bad. I just want to you to appreciate what a great pianist Rachmaninoff was. The second version is of a recording Horowitz did in 1978. You can hear the orchestra so much better. Also in the video notice the conductor completely deferring to the soloist. (Beethoven would be proud)
Not only is Rachmaninoff's 3rd Piano Concerto my favorite concerto of all time, this video (all five parts) may be my favorite video of any performance, ever. Patiently work your way through it and I believe you will be richly rewarded. It is over forty minutes long (less time than to watch 24 or your favorite tv show) and I think you will understand the dynamic between soloist and orchestra better by watching the entire video than anything I could explain in the blog. Just immerse yourself in it one time and I believe you will be hooked.