Rachmaninov for beginners

Rachmaninov is a composer that I've tried to listen to on a few occasions but never been able to get into. I have this nagging feeling that I might not have started out with the right piece, but then again, it's also possible that his music is just not my cup of tea.

This morning while watching Sesame street with my daughter they featured a Chinese born pianist, whose name I think was something like Lang Lang or Ling Ling, and he played a beautiful piece of Rachmaninov music.

So now I'm thinking I should give it another try. I love piano music, and I prefer orchestral to chamber or solo (so think Piano concertos). I also like my classical music romantic .. Brahms, Schumann, some Beethoven, some Dvorak, some Mozart (Piano conc. no 20 in particular). I don't like overt displays of virtuosity ... the music comes first.

Are there Rachmaninov experts out there who could offer a suggestion for an introductory piece ?

Many thanks

Would also add that Symphonies 1 and 3 with Janssons are excellent, and the new Hough complete piano concertos on Hyperion is superb, if you are looking for a complete set.

It's funny you mention Mozart’s piano concerto 20. That's probably my favorite classical song of all time. I just connect with that peice more than any other. Even though Mozart had the talent to show off, he never did. He never seemed to add anything that wasn't necessary.

Anyway, I would give Rach's piano concerto #2 a try if you haven't already. I believe he goes a little overboard in virtuosity, but it is still musical. Just pick a time when you can listen to one movement and follow it all the way through, if you space out in the middle of the movement then forget it, it won't make any sense.

Hope this helps.

It's not orchestral or instrumental music, but my favorite Rachmaninov is his Vespers. It is beautiful and accessible. I own the version on Telarc but versions on other labels with Russian choruses have received outstanding reviews, too. If you ever have the chance to hear it live, I hope you take the opportunity.

Jim Crane
Others have recommended Rach's Piano Concerto 2 & 3, and the Rhapsody on a Theme of Pagnini. These and his Symphony # 2 are great starting points. I would also recommend his Symphonic Dances, much more energized than any of the above, more dramatic if you will. For piano music I would also recommend the Suites for 2 pianos with Previn and Ashkenazy and his Preludes by Hayroudinoff on Chandos.

IMHO, Ashkenazy rules Rachmaninov - all of his works are now on budget disc's and are excellent performances and recordings. His performances are a bit more crisp, more drive, drama, more Russian if you will, than others. The slow overly soupy sounds made by many conductors is initially engaging, but for me at least, over the long haul grows tiring on repeated listening. Seek out the Ashkenazy/Previn recordings on Decca, for the Rhapsody, PC's and Symphonies by Ashkenazy (but Previns are a real alternative choice is you like something more romantic).

As an alternative, for just one piece to start you off, in excellent sound and at a budget price, I would highly recommend with the Rhapsody on a Theme of Pagnini by Rubenstein with Reiner and the CSO on RCA. The CD also contains Falla's Nights in the Gardens of Spain. This is a winner!


Thanks all.

this CD looks like just the ticket, and at $8.00 will not break the bank.


(Another shameless plug for archivmusic, with which I have no affiliation other than being a fan).