Ahead of our Rachmaninoff course next month, we chat to Warren Mailley-Smith about why the music of Rachmaninoff still fascinates him
Lets start with the basics, what characterises Rachmaninoff’s music?
For me its his long melodic lines, his wide and extensive use of the keyboard, the unique physical challenges of playing it, and the intensity of the climactic moments in his music.
There is a physicality to playing so much of Rachmaninoff’s music which brings you closer to the piano.”
Do you have to adjust your playing for his music?
Playing Rachmaninoff requires the perfect balance of tension and relaxation. Free, supple hands are essential to navigate your way around the many unnatural shapes it requires, whilst maintaining the ability to deliver the explosive moments without losing control
What do you love about performing it?
Rachmaninoff’s use of the piano is that of a true romanticist but with a 20th century perspective. His harmonic language is incredibly expressive always colouring a melodic line in the most beautiful way. But there is a physicality to playing so much of his music which somehow brings you closer to the piano. The climactic moments in his music are particularly rewarding to play as they often emerge from very long and gradual build ups and the fantastic sororities that Rachmaninoff achieves with huge amounts of notes and lashings of pedal can also be very thrilling to play, let alone to listen to.
Are there particular elements of his music that drew you in initially?
I was always drawn to a particular emotional rawness in his music, where you feel he is really wearing his heart on his sleeve and ‘letting it all out’. This can be a very therapeutic quality in music for a pianist, especially for a young one!
If planning a recital, what composer/s would you programme alongside Rachmaninoff’s music?
A perfect partner for Beethoven, but he also sits very nicely in a programme of Chopin and Debussy – as a wonderful contrast in their different treatment of this wonderful instrument.
If I had to chose just one it would definitely be his 2nd Piano Concerto. Hard-pushed to find 1 bar of it that isn’t just wonderful to play!
Playing Rachmaninoff requires the perfect balance of tension and relaxation. ”
What’s next for you?
In October I have various Mozart and Bach concerto performances, and a Chopin solo recital, as well as some chamber music performances in southern England. November sees a large number of solo recitals, more concertos and final preparations for a UK Tour in December with my orchestra, The Piccadilly Sinfonietta and the next recording in my ‘Complete Chopin’ series.