by Mike Telin
“Rachmaninoff’s Third Concerto is an amazing piece,” pianist Antonio Pompa-Baldi said during a recent telephone conversation. “It’s very difficult to express thoughts about such a work of art in a few words.” On Saturday, September 24 at 8:00 pm at Akron’s E.J. Thomas Hall, Pompa-Baldi will perform Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with the Akron Symphony under the direction of Christopher Wilkins. The season-opening concert will also include Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance and Jean Sibelius’s Symphony No 5.
Written in 1909, Rachmaninoff’s Third Concerto has the reputation of being one of the most technically challenging concertos in the classical piano repertoire. In spite of its many technical difficulties, combined with its physical and concentration challenges, Pompa-Baldi said that he finds the concerto to be incredibly beautiful from beginning to end.
“The essence of the piece is its lyricism,” the pianist said. “So the difficulty is to transcend all of those challenges and render the piece for what it really is. As a composition it has so many details that are amazing. It’s cyclical — the theme returns throughout the three movements — so it feels unified even though it’s over 40 minutes long.”
Pompa-Baldi noted that the concerto comes with a lot of history and tradition as well. Rachmaninoff composed the work very quickly, and practiced it on a silent keyboard on his way to the United States. He performed the premiere on November 28, 1909, shortly after arriving in New York, with the New York Symphony Society under the direction of Walter Damrosch.
“That is quite super-human. And in terms of history, so many great pianists have played it, starting with the composer himself. Then there’s the fact that it was premiered in the United States, and the second performance was conducted by Gustav Mahler. The piece has a certain power to it: just the mention of the piece has the ability to give pianists a sense of both fear and desire about playing it.”
When it comes to coordinating with the orchestra, the pianist said that while this concerto is not as difficult as the composer’s Fourth Concerto, it is difficult nonetheless. “There are many transitions and slight tempo changes, but I’ve always felt that Rachmaninoff wanted this 40-minutes-plus of music to be a living, breathing organism. My approach, especially during the first movement, is that those tempo changes should be minimal and mostly achieved through changes of character, sound, and phrasing.”
Regarding the physical stamina that the work requires of the soloist, Pompa-Baldi said that in order to give 100%, one should be very well rested and in good physical shape. “After a performance of a piece like this, the adrenaline is rushing through your body. I don’t think you really feel it until several hours after you finish. It’s difficult to go to sleep after it, that’s for sure.”
Saturday’s performance will also mark the first time Pompa-Baldi has worked with Christopher Wilkins since he performed Rachmaninoff’s Paganini Variations with him in Auckland, New Zealand in 2003. “That was a wonderful experience, so I look forward to working with him again.”
Published on ClevelandClassical.com September 20, 2016.
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