Great Recordings: Kocsis, Fischer, Rachmaninoff
Although my favorite recording of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto is Mr. Rachmaninoff performing the piano part with Eugene Ormandy conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra, my close second favorite recording is Zoltan Kocsis’ rendition of my favorite piano concerto of all time. Performed live by Mr. Kocsis and conducted by Ivan Fischer with the Budapest Festival Orchestra, this wonderful rendition brings the fire that Sergei Rachmaninoff truly had. Also, his rendition with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra with Edo de Waart conducting is incredible as well.
Sergei was of Tatar ancestry and this fire is seen by me in his music. Kocsis shows passion, with great taste, that brews throughout the most heartfelt outcries and leads to showing Rachmaninoff’s strength and drive, which are some of the main reasons why Rachmaninoff’s music will live forever. It is music that was written by a human being, showing the growth, pain, suffering, joy, and excitement. A reminder of an unlivable past with the voyage to the future.
From the first notes, the Kocsis-Fischer tandem show no fear in starting the music in a fast tempo, the way it is meant to be played, as Rachmaninoff’s recording (and score) alerts any pianist and conductor. It always made me laugh when pianists try to milk the beginning theme trying to look “intelligent.” To my eyes, they are only trying to fool the audience, which deteriorated their taste as time has gone by. But those who are composers and/or knowledgeable about past recordings and the music score are not fooled by these interpretations. Kocsis and Fischer do not try to fool anyone. Their path is clear: adhere to the composer’s markings (which is called respect in my book) and pave a path within the moments where the music can be interpreted in many ways. This is what makes their interpretation strong and amazing.
Because the third concerto is probably physically the most toughest concerto, besides Johannes Brahms’ 2nd Piano Concerto, Zoltan makes a few mistakes, which is incredible due to it being a live performance (most pianists make way more mistakes live). But for those few miniscule mistakes, he definitely makes up with a relentless energy and power in his heart and pianism. The interpretation is straightforward and unwavering. The slow and soft interludes make complete sense in this interpretation because everything is in harmony. His softness is not played with sentimentality, but done with love towards the composer and his complete respect in trying to adhere to every need written by Sergei.
The chord passage in the third movement, one of the most important places in this music (interpretation wise), is wonderful. You can hear that love and respect Zoltan has for the genius composer. Sergei’s interpretation is magnificent here as well, because he is playing it with longing for his Mother-Russia, which my father correctly pointed out to me when I was young. This part Zoltan would not know emotionally, due to the fact that he was not Russian or the composer himself. But his love towards the composer makes it a different way of interpretation which completely works in the scheme of things.
Zoltan’s first movement is truly magnificent, the push and pull between the orchestra and piano is amazing and I admire this so much in this composition and recording. I can listen to the second movement a million times, due to the fact that there are so many subtle musical ideas Mr. Rachmaninoff created and how they flow from one episode to another is amazing. The third movement just gives a pinball effect when you pull and then push it ahead. This music does the work on its own. A flawless concerto that has no limits in the amount of times one can listen to it. If you would like to start out with Rachmaninoff’s rendition first, I do not blame you. But if you want a different interpretation that is great, definitely listen to this recording underneath.