Rachmaninoff’s Second and Third Piano Concertos have long been staples of the repertory. And his First Concerto, though less often played, is youthful and appealing.
But his seldom-heard Piano Concerto No. 4 in G minor, his last, has always seemed an oddity. At once breathlessly energetic and strangely elusive, the music can come across like a patchwork of fragmentary, even manic phrases.
The superb pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, who has played and recorded the Rachmaninoff concertos to acclaim, has made a special cause of this curious Fourth. He brought it to David Geffen Hall on Thursday to kick off his season as artist in residence with the New York Philharmonic, and gave a revelatory account of the piece with the conductor Paavo Jarvi.
Rachmaninoff intended this concerto to be a magnum opus. But the score ended up way too long. He made cuts before the 1927 premiere, which was poorly received by critics, and additional trims after; he pruned it further for a 1941 revision.
The final version, played here, feels excitingly concise and confident. In the late 1920s, a time of radical developments in contemporary music, this concerto represented Rachmaninoff’s way of being modern. He deployed a harmonic language that, while rooted in tonality, was wayward and complex. The seeming fragmentation of the clipped phrases was intentional: Rachmaninoff wanted to keep you guessing.
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