Rachmaninov’s 2nd Piano Concerto, BBC NOW, St David’s Hall

April 13, 2019 by

The concert’s promotion focused heavily on the Rachmaninov rather than the Schubert and I began to ponder the choice of pairing.  The issue perhaps – Rachmaninov 2nd Piano Concerto is a relatively short piece of about 30 minutes, so something was required for the second half.

The mood of C minor often represents a declaration of love and at the same time the lament of unhappy love; all languishing, longing, sighing of the love-sick soul lies in this key.  In contrast, C major often represents the completely pure. Its character is often innocence, naivety and simplicity.  Schubert’s ‘Grand C‘ Symphony on the other hand is nothing as trivial.

An unassuming soloist, Boris Giltburg arrived on stage with conductor Alexander Vedernikov. My only preparation for this event was listening to his piano recordings.  Although they delighted to some extent, I had no expectation that he would be anything like Nikolai Lugansky; a force of nature who recently played at the same venue, performing Rachmaninov’s 3rd Piano Concerto, with the Oslo Philharmonic.

Within seconds of iterations, subtly positioning his piano stool, on a wave of pent-up expectation, Giltburg further propels his audience’s anticipation; which is decided before the first note is struck.  Immediately, time melts away.  Giltburg thrusts into the concerto, instantly his prowess is realised.  The sugar-rush of virtuosic superposition electrifies, immediately shocking goose-pimples through my body.  This I do not exaggerate.

It is easy to forget about the orchestra within these moments, and the conductor who to be fair is obviously out-of-sight doing excellent work.  The orchestra is however a vital element to the concerto and the enterprise.  Connections between conductor, orchestra and soloist is ‘sound’ and magical.

Giltburg’s unique expressive posture is no doubt part of his virtuosic immersion and appeal, which is an important part of any opulent concerto performance.  Rachmaninov’s formidable and unwavering signatures reaches points of sensory overload.  The spirit of Rachmaninov can me imagined in Giltburg’s hand acrobatics, mirroring the composer’s ghost.  A fleeting encore of an Etude by Liszt demonstrated Giltburg’s command in more intimate temperament.

From minor to major in 125 years, Schubert’s 9th Symphony was performed in the second half of this esteemed concert.  Centre-stage, Vedernikov with his commanding mastery directs the orchestra; the audience transfixed on his iconic silhouette.  Two sumptuous French horns declare the opening of this symphony, in a melody juxtaposed throughout the piece.  The entire piece is a pastoral frolic through the Austrian countryside, brimming with a bold orchestration for its time; written just one year after Beethoven’s 9th.  This is a symphony which was deemed unplayable at the time of its completion.  The impact of this work may have been lost over the centuries, but one can imagine the effect on those early audiences.

For me, the concert represented a journey both in time and of keys.  The stark contrast between post-romantic period Rachmaninov and classical-romantic Schubert is stark to say the least.



  1. OK – so it’s a complimentary review but something written in this ludicrous, flowery style is one very good reason why anyone who isn’t a “Doctor of Over the Top Writing” will not even consider attending a concert. What chance enticing youngsters who may not have attended before, to give concert going a try? Nil!
    Check out – “The sugar-rush of virtuosic superposition electrifies, immediately shocking goose-pimples through my body.” What does that mean? Also – “Rachmaninov’s formidable and unwavering signatures reaches points of sensory overload”. I have no idea what this means. Please – just plain, understandable English.

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