Accompanied by the Verbier Festival Orchestra, the Georgian classical pianist Khatia Buniatishvili performs Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3, Op. 30. Conductor: Neeme Järvi. Recorded at the Verbier Festival in 2011.

Khatia Buniatishvili, Neeme Järvi (conductor), and the Verbier Festival Orchestra perform Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30 at the Verbier Festival in 2011.

Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3

Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873 – 1943) wrote his 3rd Piano Concerto in 1909 at the Ivanovka country estate 550 kilometers (310 miles) southeast of Moscow. Rachmaninoff spent the summer months here from 1890 until his emigration to the United States in 1917, following the Russian Revolution.

Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30 was premiered by the New York Symphony Orchestra on November 28, 1909, in New York, conducted by the German-born American conductor and composer Walter Damrosch (1862-1950). Rachmaninoff, who had been practicing the concert on a silent piano during his Atlantic voyage, played the solo part himself.

The concerto is scored for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, snare drum, cymbals, piano, and strings.

The piece is one of Rachmaninoff’s most acclaimed works.


The three movements of the piece recall the structure of typical solo concerts of the Romantic era.

1. Allegro ma non tanto (D minor)

The first movement revolves around a diatonic melody that soon develops into complex pianistic figuration. The second theme opens with quiet exchanges between the orchestra and the piano before fully diving into a slower theme in a major key.

At the outset, the piano sets forth the first theme, a long, ample, and simple phrase of grand proportion. It is taken up by the orchestra while the piano performs brilliant counterpoint ornamentation. A rhythmic, lively motif prepares the second theme; this passage of virtuosity ends in silence, alternating numerous modulations. The second theme contrasts with what was heard previously: lyrical and moving, it is pronounced by the orchestra, taken up by the soloist, becoming more and more intense as it develops.

The development begins with a reprise of the initial theme in various modulations. Very quickly, the soloist reaches a brilliant passage, a first crescendo, and a first climax where he escapes through a succession of hammered chords. A small lull then, characterized by syncopated appoggiaturas to announce the cadence.

The composer writes two versions of this cadenza: the first is difficult and the most common among performers, and the second surpasses the complexities and technical prowess with its rich chords. Little by little, the cadence evolves towards the initial theme.

Rachmaninoff does not make a recapitulation but a coda based on the opening theme, gradually closing in an elusive decrescendo.

2. Intermezzo: Adagio (F sharp minor/D flat Major)

A slow movement dictated by rich melodic inspiration and original content. A long theme is announced by the orchestra, dramatic and dark. The piano will take it up again in the form of variations, in a serious, even funereal crash. Throughout this interlude, time stretches out, the soloist redoubles his virtuosity, then time stretches out again.

Then the piano gets the last word with a short “cadenza-esque” passage which moves into the last movement without pause. Many melodic thoughts of this movement allude to Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto, third movement, noticeably the Russian-like, E-flat major melody.

3. Finale: Alla breve (D minor – D Major)

Without interruption, the third movement opens with a piano ride, in the treble to which is linked a breathtaking dialogue between the soloist and the orchestra.

The third movement is quick, agile, and vigorous, and contains variations on many of the themes that are used in the first movement, which unites the concerto cyclically.

However, after the first and second themes, it diverges from the regular sonata-allegro form. There is no conventional development; that segment is replaced by a lengthy digression using the major key of the third movement’s first theme, which leads to the two themes from the first movement.

After the digression, the movement recapitulation returns to the original themes, building up to a toccata climax somewhat similar but lighter than the first movement’s ossia cadenza and accompanied by the orchestra. The movement concludes with a triumphant and passionate second theme melody in D major. The piece ends with the same four-note rhythm – claimed by some to be the composer’s musical signature – as the composer’s second concerto.

Virtuoso embroideries, languorous phrases, the changes are sudden but this ecstatic and rhapsodic concerto (in the manner of Chopin ) ends masterfully with brilliant flights, a jubilant and triumphant orchestra. A successful theatrical and dynamic staging to win over a new audience.

Khatia Buniatishvili

Khatia Buniatishvili was born in 1987 in Tbilisi, Georgia. She was considered a wunderkind when she was a little child. She began to play the piano at the age of three and gave her first concert with the Tbilisi concert orchestra at the age of six.

International performances followed when she was ten. In 2008, she made her US debut at New York’s Carnegie Hall. Since then, Buniatishvili has been regularly invited to many high-profile festivals and has given concerts in the world’s most renowned concert halls, for instance at Vienna’s Musikverein, at the Concertgebouw Amsterdam, and at the Berlin Philharmonic. She has won the highly respected Echo Classic Award twice.

Khatia Buniatishvili performs Sergei Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3, Op. 30.
Accompanied by the Verbier Festival Orchestra, Khatia Buniatishvili performs Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3, Op. 30.

The Verbier Festival is one of the most prestigious classical music events in the world. The quality of the participating artists as well as the originality of the programs have established the festival as a highlight of the music season. It takes place for two weeks in late July and early August in the mountain resort of Verbier, in Switzerland.


M. Özgür Nevres

Published by M. Özgür Nevres

I am Özgür Nevres, a software engineer, a former road racing cyclist, and also an amateur musician. I opened to share my favorite music. I also take care of stray cats & dogs. This website's all income goes directly to our furry friends. Please consider supporting me on Patreon, so I can help more animals!

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