Kirill Gerstein has announced the release of Rachmaninoff 150, an album that traces the evolution of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s creative vision over the course of his lifetime. The album features both studio recordings of solo piano works, and a live recording of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto performed by Kirill Gerstein with the Berliner Philharmoniker, led by their chief conductor Kirill Petrenko, captured at the iconic Waldbühne Berlin in June 2022. Rachmaninoff 150 is available now exclusively on Apple Music, will be released across all platforms on the 2 June, and will be available on CD from the 23 June.
The Berliner Philharmoniker has a significant historical connection with Rachmaninoff’s music. In 1908, Rachmaninoff made his debut with the orchestra, performing his Second Piano Concerto under the direction of Serge Koussevitzky. In her booklet notes, Rachmaninoff scholar Rebecca Mitchell writes that ‘the concerto performance on this album offers a unified artistic vision and beautifully choreographed conversation between the orchestra and soloist rarely heard in performances of this work’. One of the few composer-pianists to leave behind an entire interpretive legacy in his recordings, Rachmaninoff’s performances are often surprising for their quick tempos and absence of excessive rubato. Petrenko and Gerstein’s interpretation demonstrates sensitivity to Rachmaninoff’s aesthetic legacy, while simultaneously uncovering colourful new musical facets in what is one of the best-known piano concertos of all time.
The solo pieces on this recording were produced in the resplendent acoustics of the Großer Saal of the Philharmonie Berlin on February 6, 2023. Gerstein delves into Rachmaninoff’s early style through his rendition of Melodie in E major, op. 3 no. 3. Upon leaving Russia in 1917, Rachmaninoff created several virtuosic arrangements, including the remarkable transcription of Fritz Kreisler’s Liebesleid, performed here by Gerstein. It is worth noting that Rachmaninoff dedicated his final major work for solo piano Variations on a Theme of Corelli to Kreisler, who is believed to have introduced him to the theme. This composition represents the quintessence of Rachmaninoff’s late style, characterised by pared-down textures, more angular rhythms, and a fractured Romanticism that responds to the complexities and contradictions of the modern world that confronted him.
Gerstein pays homage to Rachmaninoff’s earlier works in the closing track of the album, through his own arrangement of In the Silence of the Secret Night, the third of the Six Romances Op.4. In his introductory note to the sheet music for this piece, recently published by Faber, Gerstein expresses his admiration for Rachmaninoff’s youthful romanticism and his desire to transform the vocal setting of lines by Afanasy Fet into a purely instrumental work. In doing so, Gerstein pays tribute to the great tradition of transcription established by Liszt, Busoni, and Rachmaninoff himself.
Olaf Maninger, Principal Cellist and member of the Media Board of the Berliner Philharmoniker, says: “We are happy to collaborate with Kirill Gerstein on this project. The orchestra and our in-house label are excited to extend our repertoire with our dear friends. This setup, with our chief conductor Kirill Petrenko and the concerto recorded at Waldbühne, is a great start to celebrate the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff throughout this year.”
Kirill Gerstein adds “I believe in recording pieces that one loves particularly strongly. This feeling of love for Rachmaninoff’s music was palpable in rehearsals with Kirill Petrenko and the musicians of the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra, and in the moment of performance that we shared with our listeners at the Waldbühne. From there, the idea of this Rachmaninoff project grew organically through recording the solo works at the Philharmonie and collaborating with Berliner Philharmoniker recordings and Platoon on releasing it. I am honoured and thrilled to be able to present it to our listeners.”
Kirill Gerstein is managed in association with Enticott Music Management.