Chasing the Romantic Sublime in Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2

The lone voice of the piano unveiled Sergei Rachmaninoff‘s Piano Concerto No. 2, starting with a series of powerful, brooding chords. With each play, a heightened sense of foreboding, and the tension quickly escalated into a breaking point that erupted into scaled musical statement that reverberated throughout the concerto.

The passion, whether uttered through powerful arpeggios or sweet romantic melodies, came rolling like waves unrelentingly, leaving one breathless with the distilled essence of love—both the pleasure of love anticipated and the pain of love unfulfilled.

The performance, performed by pianist Boris GiltburgPacific Symphony and guest conductor Ben Gernon, was a pursuit of the Romantic conception of the sublime. The state of being, a Romantic ideal, believes that the most memorable experience is not made up of pleasure alone, but also suffering.

Segerstrom Center for the Arts
May 31—June 2 2018

Sergei Prokofiev Russian Overture Op. 72
Sergei Rachmaninoff Concerto No. 2
Igor Stravinsky Petrushka (1947 version) 

The idea of the sublime was first introduced by Edmund Burke, an Anglo-Irish politician, orator and political thinker. He wrote that pain, torment and suffering are “a source of the sublime; that is, it is productive of the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling,” according to his Philosophical Enquiry (1757).

The sublime is connected with a sense of awe, terror and danger, which Burke saw nature as the most sublime subject. The concept proved influential for generations of artists, including Rachmaninoff, who was born nearly 150 years after Burke.

Rachmaninoff is considered among the great composer-pianist and the last great figure of late Russian Romanticism. He was born in 1873 to an aristocratic Russian family, one of six children. He died of cancer in Beverly Hills in 1943, just short of his 70th birthday.

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