Hidden from small

New on CD: Yannick, the Philadelphians, and Rachmaninoff

September 01, 2015

“The opening bars tell you this is going to be a good ‘Pag Rhap’. As things turn out, it is a great one, up there with the very best.” (Gramophone)

When The Philadelphia Orchestra first recorded Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Leopold Stokowski conducted and the composer himself was at the keyboard. That was 1934, just weeks after the same set of stars premiered the work in Baltimore.

Now, just released on the Deutsche Grammophon (DG) label, Yannick Nézet-Séguin leads the Philadelphians and pianist Daniil Trifonov in a new recording called Rachmaninoff Variations that critics are already calling “a great one. Up there with the very best. … The Philadelphia’s silky strings and characterful woodwind are a joy …” (Read Gramophone magazine's full review here.) Gramophone has also named the CD “Recording of the Month” for September 2015.

No wonder. The composer’s relationship with the Orchestra was famously unique in the world, resulting in works that came to define the inimitable Philadelphia Sound.

When we play Rachmaninoff with this Orchestra, not only is it gorgeous and beautiful, and they know how to do it,” says Yannick, “but there’s a feeling for a conductor or soloist of stepping into something so special, there’s almost a veneration. There’s so much admiration for this repertoire that it’s unlike anything else I’ve experienced.”

You can listen to Yannick and Daniil talk about this recording here, along with a short excerpt from the session.

“It was a no-brainer to have one of the greatest young pianists in the world now, someone who has a very special soul, and feels a special connection to Rachmaninoff,” says Yannick. “So of course Trifonov was over the moon about this recording, and so was I.

“He IS very Russian but has been in the U.S. for quite some time, so he feels himself as away from his own country. Of course, times are different now, he can always fly back there, so it’s not the same kind of nostalgia that Rachmaninoff had when he was alive, but I think his perspective might be similar.

Photo: Jessica Griffin

“I think as soon as he started on the keyboard, the musicians of the Orchestra were 100% convinced that we had a genius with us, who was able to make us maybe experience what it must have been like to be with Rachmaninoff.”

Rachmaninoff “is in the genes of the Orchestra,” says Trifonov. “It comes so effortlessly.”

The Rhapsody was recorded in Verizon Hall last March. Rachmaninoff Variations is now on sale online through DG’s website via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or iTunes, or at your favorite music store.

The recording also features Trifonov, the gifted 24-year-old Russian prodigy and winner of the 2011 International Tchaikovsky Competition, performing solo works by his compatriot and idol.

Trifonov will be focusing on his hero’s music all season, beginning with The Philadelphia Orchestra’s season opening concerts, making his subscription debut performing Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 4 with Yannick conducting, October 1-4.

You can hear the Philadelphians perform Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini live in Verizon Hall November 27-28, with guest conductor Gianandrea Noseda and pianist Simon Trpčeski.