Hidden from small

Rachmaninoff on Philadelphia: “The Finest Orchestral Combination in the World”

September 28, 2015

When Yannick and The Philadelphia Orchestra take the stage for the first subscription series of the 2015-16 season, Rachmaninoff will be on the program. And if you’re in the audience, you may feel the spirit of the composer himself in Verizon Hall. Rachmaninoff had a profound and prolific relationship with the Orchestra: He loved the Orchestra, performed with the Orchestra, and, most abidingly, wrote for and recorded with the Orchestra.

“To make records with the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra is as thrilling an experience as any artist could desire,” Rachmaninoff told Gramophone magazine in a 1931 interview. “Unquestionably, they are the finest orchestral combination in the world: even the famous New York Philharmonic, which you heard in London under Toscanini last summer, must, I think, take second place. Only by working with the Philadelphians both as soloist and conductor, as has been my privilege, can one fully realise and appreciate their perfection of ensemble.”

Rachmaninoff both conducted and played piano on recordings with The Philadelphia Orchestra, performing, among other works, all four of his piano concertos.

Sergei Rachmaninoff with Eugene Ormandy in the Academy of Music in 1938. Photo: The Adrian Siegel Collection/Philadelphia Orchestra Archives

“Recording my own Concerto with this orchestra was a unique event,” he told Gramophone, referring to his recording of the Second Piano Concerto. “Apart from the fact that I am the only pianist who has played with them for the gramophone, it is very rarely that an artist, whether as soloist or composer, is gratified by hearing his work accompanied and interpreted with so much sympathetic co­operation such perfection of detail and balance between piano and orchestra.

“Their efficiency is almost incredible. In England I hear constant complaints that your orchestras suffer always from under­rehearsal. The Philadelphia Orchestra, on the other hand, has attained such a standard of excellence that they produce the finest results with the minimum of preliminary work.”

Rachmaninoff said that he often composed with the sound of The Philadelphia Orchestra in his head. The Piano Concerto No. 4, one of nine Rachmaninoff compositions premiered by the Philadelphians (in March 1927, with Stokowski conducting), was also written expressly for the ensemble. And it is that magnificent piece that Yannick has chosen for the program he’ll be conducting October 1-4. Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov, making his subscription debut, is the guest soloist.

And, in case you missed it, Yannick, the Orchestra, and Trifonov just released Rachmaninoff Variations, a new recording of the composer’s works, on the Deutsche Grammophon (DG) label to rave reviews, including this one from Gramophone magazine. The CD includes the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, another piece written for the Orchestra, which will be heard in concerts November 27-28. (Rachmaninoff, Stokowski, and the Philadelphians made the first recording of that work in 1934, just six weeks after giving the world premiere in Baltimore.) The current disc, which Gramophone also named its “Recording of the Month” for September 2015, is on sale now online or at your local CD stores.

And for more of Rachmaninoff’s thoughts on The Philadelphia Orchestra—and the future of recording, as seen from a 1931 perspective—read the full interview in Gramophone.