“Rach 3” – The Ultimate Piano Concerto

In my years of listening to classical music works, there are pieces that just more complex than others, and take more time to get a sense of its inner working (both structural and emotional wise), and appreciate its beauty. Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No.3 in D minor, Op. 30 is just such a piece. The more I listen to it, the clearer it became on the motifs, subjects and their inter-relationships across movements, and the emotions within.

1. Allegro ma non tanto

First movement follows sonata form, with the first theme clearly marks the exposition, development and recapitulation of the movement. The first theme opens on piano solo, though calm and seemingly simplistic, one may experience different sentiment depending the emotional state of the listener.

The second theme sounds more elaborated than usual, could be seen as consisting of a few subparts woven together. It starts on the cello, we could call it 2A:

Followed by 2B on the dialogue between piano and strings:

Then 2B is elaborated by piano solo and turned into two noticeable phrases (2C & 2D). One could consider them just part of the overall second theme, but they are distinctively called out later in the piece, first at the end of development of this movement (2C, after the passionate cadenza), then also in later part of development section in the last movement (2D, before the recapitulation).



During development, one notable passage below is mainly based on first theme’s rhythmic pattern, and propelled into a huge climax:

Of the two versions of cadenzas, I prefer the original chordal version (ossia), it’s a bit longer than the other but I feel the elaborated chords on first theme fits better in the overall sentiment of the piece.

2. Intermezzo: Adagio

The melody introduced at the beginning of the 2nd movement is lovely, beautiful yet with a sense of longing, it is the main theme used by the variation form of this movement.

The are a few variations following. The progressive growth in waves of emotions is breathtaking, with the piano’s rich chords repeatedly emphasizing the main motif, which are then alternating between piano and the orchestra.

3. Finale: Alla breve

The final movement starts, without pause from the end of 2nd movement, with this fast first theme, full of forward momentum of a dance:

The second theme builds on major arpeggios, the ascending notes are bright and uplifting:

Development is almost exclusively on the first theme done by piano, with exception of a reflection of 2nd theme from first movement before entering finale. The ending passage is amazingly passionate and powerful, the much elaborated 2nd theme slowed by one fold in meter, waves of emotion get pushed higher and higher, after reaching climax then rushing down hill in lightening speed and dense rhythm, reaching the final stop.

(Sony Classical, 1999)

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