There is a way of thinking into which I fall at times, which is that if something is popular or well-known it must not be any good. But this is as ridiculous as presuming that it must be good.
I think that Rachmaninoff’s 3rd concerto is such a thing. It is perhaps not quite so common as Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, less accessible in some ways. But it is a best-known storm.
And yet, each time I hear it, even recorded, it washes over me. The soft, deceptive beginning with the undertones of what is to come and then the break into thunder; the play between the lilting violins and the piano. Live one holds one’s breath for the performer.
One remembers, in this piece, that the piano is a percussive instrument, but only after first it teases with the string – the realization comes almost too late. And yet, it never loses the touch with the violins; it continues the lyricism throughout the mad rolling disturbance.
This put me in mind of my archangel and myself. Yes, we are like new lovers and so in a sense there are not the small betrayals; the well-worn grooves. And yet I feel that our storms rage without losing the melody, from orchestra to piano and back. From storm to song to storm to song.
I have chosen this version. YouTube also has Rachmaninoff himself playing it, but I prefer Horowitz; this is not my very favourite recording – that is the 1951 – but I like that he was 75 and still able to sustain it.
Just the first 5 minutes gives one the tenor of it.