One of the most famous piano solo pieces is almost always played wrong, in my opinion. Rachmaninoff's Prelude in C# min, no matter how well it starts, always loses it once the main theme returns to close the piece out. In almost every recording I have, the pianist goes back to Tempo I for that section – despite the fact the piece grows steadily faster leading to the falling octaves in the middle of the piece.

Even Van Cliburn – an artist as acclaimed for his skill at interpreting Rachmaninoff – mucks it up.

And you know what? I used to love hearing it that way. That was until I heard the composer's own interpretation. Rachmaninoff was mostly too early to leave any actual recordings (there are a few, but they are of poor quality) but he did leave piano rolls from the Ampico piano roll company — a technology that allowed the piano to reproduce not only the notes, but also the dynamics the player intended.

Those piano rolls were used to produce this album of Rachmaninoff playing his own works and transcriptions. And one of the highlights is his performance of the C# min prelude.It's the first and only time I've ever heard it with the recapitulation done at a fast tempo – and it just fits the piece so much better given that it has increased in tempo throughout to this point. Have a listen.

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One response »

  1. Tomoko says:

    Interesting. Yes, I like the faster tempo better in the recap. I should listen to the rest of his performance in that CD! Thanks for introducing.

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