Russian classical pianist Olga Kern performs Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30. Kern is the Gold Medal winner of the 2001 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition – whose performance of the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3 made her the first woman to achieve this distinction in over 30 years. She made her New York City debut in Carnegie’s Zankel Hall in May, 2004. Eleven days later she returned to New York to play at Carnegie again, this time on the stage of the Isaac Stern Auditorium at the invitation of Carnegie Hall.
Composed in 1909, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30 has the reputation of being one of the most technically challenging piano concertos in the standard classical repertoire.
The concerto is one of the main foci of the 1996 film Shine, based on the life of pianist David Helfgott.
There are three movements:
- 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. The first part of the first theme is restated before the movement is pulled into a loud development section which opens with toccata like quavers in the piano and reaches a loud chordal section. The whole development exhibits features similar to a canon, such as an eighth note passage in the piano in which the left hand and the right hand play overlapping figures. The movement reaches a number of ferocious climaxes, especially in the cadenza. Rachmaninoff wrote two versions of this cadenza: the chordal original, which is commonly notated as the ossia, and a second one with a lighter, toccata-like style. Both cadenzas lead into a quiet solo section where the flute, oboe, clarinet and horn restate the first theme of the exposition, accompanied by delicate arpeggios in the piano. The cadenza then ends quietly, but the piano alone continues to play a quiet development of the exposition’s second theme before leading to the recapitulation, where the first theme is restated by the piano, with the orchestra accompanying, soon closing with a quiet, rippling coda reminiscent of the second theme.
- Intermezzo: Adagio (D minor → F sharp minor/D flat major) The second movement is opened by the orchestra and it consists of a number of variations around a single lush, heavily romantic melody following one another without a rigid scheme. The melody soon moves to the tonic major which is the second theme. After the first theme development and recapitulation of the second theme, the main melody from the first movement reappears, before the movement is closed by the orchestra in a manner similar to the introduction. 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.
- Finale: Alla breve (D minor → D major) The third movement is quick 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 both the composer’s second concerto and second symphony.
Rachmaninoff made cuts in his score to accommodate the length of the 78 rpm recording (any flat disc record, made between about 1898 and the late 1950s and playing at a speed around 78 revolutions per minute is called a “78” by collectors). Apparently, he allowed cuts to be made in some of his larger scale works to be more convenient for performances (and performers); in this case, however, he used them for the sake of the recording length. It is a practice that was common back then and almost unheard of now. More recently, it has become commonplace to perform the concerto without cuts.
Olga Kern (born April 23, 1975 Moscow) is a Russian classical pianist who now lives in New York. She was the first woman in over 30 years to receive the Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass Gold Medal in the Eleventh Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, tying for first with Stanislav Ioudenitch.
Kern has given solo recitals and appeared in concert at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Avery Fisher Hall, the Hollywood Bowl, the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, London’s Royal Albert Hall, Symphony Hall in Osaka, the Salzburger Festspielhaus, Milan’s Teatro alla Scala, Zurich’s Tonhalle, the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, Munich’s Gasteig, and the Tonhalle Düsseldorf. the Laeiszhalle in Hamburg, the Milan Conservatory “Giuseppe Verdi,” the Teatro Comunale di Bologna, the Rudolfinum in Prague, Cadogan Hall in London, Edinburgh’s Usher Hall, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, the Grande Auditorio Culturgest in Lisbon, and Madrid’s National Auditorium of Music.