1896: Rachmaninov: Moment Musical Op16 No 2 in Eb minor

TUESDAY, September 22, 2020 – 2:16 AM

Two completely different views

(Please listen to both. They are not long, and the playing is radically different. It’s like listening to two completely different stories. One to me is just fast, impressive, clean as a razor, and that version is Rachmaninov’s. We have to give it great weight, and in fact the performance is stunning. But the 2nd performance, by Pogorelich, is mysterious, much gentler and much more nuanced. It is also extremely different from what Rachmaninov indicated. So my question is this: Would Rachmaninov have been disgusted by such a willful change in his intentions? Would he have had mixed feelings? In other words, might he have said, “Well, that’s not what I had in mind, but I don’t object because it’s so interesting”. Or might he have said: “Wow! It never occurred to me to play it that way. He somehow took all my ideas and went to a different level. If I had thought of this myself, I would have played it like that too. I love what he did.”)

But we don’t know. Rachmaninov died in 1943, and this recording was made in 2001.


This is by Rachmaninov, and it’s frightening to think that he recorded it in 1940, about three years before his death.

He still possessed a frightening technique. It’s typical of how it is usually played, and probably the best version played in the standard way.


This is the same piece, but it sounds completely different. I don’t know if the composer would have been shocked and insulted to hear it so changed, or fascinated with a new interpretation.

I find it fascinating, with a whole different set of tonal colors. Although this was written about 123 years ago, it might have been in the film score of “The Sixth Sense”, one of the weirdest ghost movies ever made.

Pogorelich has always been one of the strangest performers in history, with critics who loathe what he does and fans who love it. My take: if 50% of your listeners think you are horrible, and the other 50% think you are the best on the planet, you are probably doing something great by shaking things up. You are making people think.

8 thoughts on “1896: Rachmaninov: Moment Musical Op16 No 2 in Eb minor

  1. I didn’t like the Pogorelish version even though it sounds more musical. In my opinion, and guessing this is Pogorelish signature (way of playing it), Rachmaninov may have accepted it well; but, he may have end up preferring his version.

  2. Not knowing Rach as well as I should, I can’t really say how he’d take it… something tells me he had very strong opinions and may have taken umbrage at how Pogorolich did it.

    That said, Rach was very avant-garde, no? He may just have been open-minded enough to sit through the whole thing and then decide if he was going to like or not..

    Myself? If in a scholarly mode, I’ll take Rach. If had a few drinks, I’ll take the Pogorolich. Either way is unsettling music, I wonder what particular muse visited him. Perhaps the already quite-loud drums of war in Europe?

    1. Pogorelich took everything to an extreme. It would be possible to do some of what he did without distorting the time so much. There is also one place where his ideas in the LH do not quite work due to a weakness in the composition itself. Most people play that spot very fast and very lightly, so any problems are inaudible.

      But for sure I much prefer his ideas. For me it’s not even close. It hit me like a brick the first time, but I’ve listened many times since then, and there is simply a whole different level there. Whether or not Rachmaninov had that in mind, I don’t care. It’s not infrequent that very talented interpreters bring out ideas that the composers did not intend, and in some cases the composers fully endorse the result. What you may not know is that Rachmaninov was known for taking extreme liberties with the music of other composers, often to a shocking degree. But there was not a pianist on the planet who was not awed by his interpretations.

  3. The first sounds scarier ( the pictures, even though they might be obsolete to some, reinforce this). The second gets you hyped up (maybe because of the almost invisible sound) and then reward your ears with the MF (mezzo forte) music in the middle/ end.

    1. The second recording is totally different in concept. It is slower, much slower in many places, and much quieter. It is much more subtle. The original tempo was marked “Allegretto”, which means “somewhat fast”, so there is no reason why it has to be played so fast.

  4. This is not the kind of music I prefer. It makes me feel uneasy. I can imagine it being played in “The Sixth Sense” and perhaps one of Alfred Hitchcock’s movies.

  5. This is fascinating. Each version is very “complete” and self-contained, making its own statement. In Rachmaninoff’s version, the statement is in the RH, and the LH is like a storm sweeping underneath while we are together with the brave boat or whatever we’re following through the storm. Without the storm, the boat’s odyssey would not have meaning. Pogorolich, he makes the LH interesting, coming to life, and sometimes the two voices merge, with the other rising to prominence. I’d like to listen to these more than once, and let them grow on me.

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