SERGEY RACHMANINOFF belongs to the most remarkable figures of Russian music from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, one of the greatest pianists of his time and also a talented conductor.
All his works in various genres became popular and won a place in the performing repertoire, but Rachmaninoff’s creative talent found a most consummate and adequate expression in his piano pieces.
The entire world of images typical of Rachmaninoff unfolds early on in the FIRST PIANO CONCERTO, created by the eighteen-years old composer in 1890-1891, at the time of his study at the Moscow Conservatory. It was dedicated to the great Russian pianist, conductor and composer Alexander Siloti (1863- 1945), a cousin of Rachmaninoff’s and a professor at the Conservatory. Although the concerto still reflects the influence of the great romantic masters in this genre (the works of Tchaikovsky, Grieg, Chopin or Schumann), one can also detect the composer’s signature combination of lyricism, impetuous dynamism and virtuosic pianism. This is the first work to which Rachmaninoff decided to give publicity and designate it with Opus 1. The first movement of the concerto was performed by the author on 17 March 1892 in the hall of the Moscow Conservatory under the direction of Vasiliy Safonov.
Later, in 1917, when the Third and the Second Concertos were already written and had become familiar with the public, Rachmaninoff made a thorough revision of the First, retaining the thematic material, but considerably enriched the orchestral and piano part. In this refashioned version he performed repeatedly the work at his concerts over the world. The first performance of the work took place on 29 January 1919 in New York and was a great success with the audience. Sergey Prokofiev, who attended the premiere, noted in his diary: “Today Rachmaninoff for the first time performed the new version of his First Piano Concerto. I love the first movement – naive and poetic, though lengthy. Now it’s all recast very skilfully and smoothly …”