Review: Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto

Simon Hale enjoys the CBSO performing an old favourite at Symphony Hall.

Coming only days after being voted as Britain’s favourite piece of classical music, it was no surprise that the CBSO’s performance of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto attracted a near-full house at Symphony Hall.

It was ten years since the work last topped the annual survey result by radio station Classic FM and exactly 150 years ago to the month that the Russian composer was born.

As one of the most romantic works in the genre, the concerto is well known to listeners of all ages, with its music used in films such as Brief Encounter and The Seven Year Itch and as the basis of Eric Carmen’s rock ballad All by Myself. Uzbek pianist Behzod Abduraimov played the gorgeous melodies sublimely, weaving from the beautifully gentle to the rhythmically powerful in each movement in a continuous flow, while conductor François Leieux (pictured) brought the orchestra and soloist together in total harmony and with undulating momentum all the way to the pulsating ‘big tune’ finale.

The evening’s programme also included two works by Johannes Brahms that were far from the romantically emotional yet engagingly tuneful, with his Academic Festival Overture as the opener. Written on his receiving an honorary doctorate, the orchestra cleared enjoyed themselves playing a potpourri of student songs ending with the exuberant Gaudeamus Igitor drinking song with its exhortations to live for the moment.

The post-interval work comprised Brahms’s First Serenade, an anticlimactic choice after the crowd-pleasing Rachmaninoff (several previously occupied seats nearby had been noticeably vacated). This infrequently performed six-movement work was composed in tribute to the earlier classical symphonies of Haydn and Mozart although the opening movements sounded more like a Brahms’ symphony and there were even touches of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony.

Indeed, the CBSO provided a lovely impression of rolling countryside and rustic pleasures, especially in the contribution of the horns in their hunting associations as well as the bassoon and strings in an elegant waltz before the earlier themes returned in a satisfyingly joyous conclusion.

The CBSO will take to the stage of Symphony Hall on Wednesday, April 19th to perform Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony along with works by Rossini and Mozart. The orchestra will return on Thursday, April 27th with three Birmingham choirs for Andrzej Panufnik’s Sinfonia Sacra and Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana.

For tickets call 0121 780 3333 or book online at

Pics – Evgeny Eutykhov (front) and Thomas Kost (this page).