Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, op. 18

Composed in 1901, the Piano Concerto No. 2 is perhaps Rachmaninov’s most popular work. Its success can be put down to its melodiousness, emotional subtlety, the gracefulness of its musical idiom, its varied orchestration, and not least its brilliant piano part. The listener will be little aware of the immense technical challenge it poses to the player, overcoming which produces the degree of effortless spontaneity with which acrobats dazzle their audiences. (This level of virtuosity is no accident, given that Rachmaninov was one of the greatest pianists of his time.) The participation of the piano and the orchestra in the opening movement of the concerto is highly balanced, essentially in a chamber-music fashion, and typically, this movement does not have a virtuoso piano cadenza. The most riveting moment of the beautiful slow movement – a nocturne in atmosphere – is the ending, with the fading harmonies of the piano, left on its own. The finale is built on the dance-like, light main theme of the piano and the passionately vocal orchestral second theme.