These recordings are from one of the most intense nights of my career, in Cape Town, South Africa. Performing Rachmaninoff Piano Concertos 1 and 2 on the same program with an ensemble I truly have come to love, in an amazing Country, and in a city which I find utterly beautiful. There is also something very special about the magnificent venue, Town Hall, where one is surrounded and enveloped by the audience, left, right, front and back.
I remember how that morning, as I arrived for the dress rehearsal, the rumor that Nelson Mandela had died was spreading at the speed of light. It turned out not to be true, but we did not know then. I remember the Conductor, Maestro Yasuo Shinozaki from Japan, deciding on the spot to add the “Nimrod” Variation from Elgar’s “Enigma”, in memory of Mandela, at the beginning of the program. The dress rehearsal was public, attended by hundreds of people, mostly elderly audience members who preferred not to leave their homes at night. It was more a concert than a rehearsal. As the orchestra started running through the Elgar, all these people stood and wept. It was all very emotional, very moving. At the end of both videos, I included one picture from this moment, which I took with my phone. It shows a partial view of the audience, with people standing and paying their respects to the great man.
After the rehearsal, basically a run-through of both Concertos, I got back to the hotel and opened the TV. CNN was saying that Mandela was still alive! It was surprising, and strange.
Finally, that night I played these two gorgeous pieces for a packed house (again, I included pictures at the end of each video, of me bowing in every direction to acknowledge and thank the audience). I felt inspired by the large crowd and their enthusiasm, and by my fellow musicians with whom I shared this experience. It is far from a perfect performance, of course. After all, it is live and unedited, and there is even a cell phone that went off during the first movement of the First Concerto, but for some reason that night nothing mattered, nothing bothered me.
In both of these works, but especially in the First Concerto, I like slow tempi. I guess this is true, for me, with all the Rachmaninoff Concertos. There is so much to love, to hear, to absorb. Melodies, countermelodies, harmonic gems, cross rhythms, little chamber music dialogues within the massive context. Also, I think faster tempi take away the depth and beauty of the sound, forcing the pianist to shorten the motions and “whip” the keys to get power, rather than dig deep and with a fluid, naturally weighty approach. Something very personal, or course, and therefore debatable. Furthermore, there is only so much that an archival recording, or any recording, can catch in terms of the actual sound heard live. At any rate, I truly love these Concertos, and I particularly loved playing them on that night of June 27th, 2013.