My Favorite Piano Concerti

. . . prompted by discovering I had a recording of Schumann’s Piano Concerto, op. 54, on my computer. So, in chronological order:

1. Robert Schumann — Piano Concerto, op. 54 (1845)

I love the first movement of this concerto. Growing up, the public library a series of videos about the orchestra featuring the Schleswig-Holsetein Festival Orchestra and Sir Georg Solti with Dudley Moore as narrator. Turns out Dudley Moore is also a fine amateur pianist. He played the solo part of this concerto in those videos, which is where I first really got to know it.

As it turns out, most of the rest of my favorites were written in a roughly 10-year span:

2. Erich Korngold — Piano Concerto for the Left Hand (1923)

I don’t know how I found this piece first, but I love so much about it: the harmony, the viscerality of it, the way the vigorous sections are contrasted with ethereal ones, and how it all flows together in one continuous movement.

3. George Gershwin — Piano Concerto in F (1925)

How can anyone not like Gershwin? Enough said.

4 and 5. Maurice Ravel — Piano Concerto in G (1931) and Piano Concerto for the Left Hand (1930)

Ravel’s two concerti are the holy grail of concerto writing for me. They’re very contrasting works. The Left-Hand Concerto is dark and profound whereas the Concerto in G is light and winsome. The Concerto in G also contains 9 of some of the most beautiful minutes of music ever in the Adagio Assai.

6. Sergei Rachmaninov — Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (1934)

I heard lots of Rachmaninov ever since I was a kid, but out of all of the concerti, this one is my favorite (followed by 3 and 4 in that order). I love the variety of moods and colors. As with the Ravel and Korngold concertos for the left hand, Rachmaninov does a great job pulling along the narrative without a movement break. [Note—For the video below, I found a really good remastering of Rachmaninov himself at the piano.]

And, finally,

7. Dmitri Shostakovich — Piano Concerto no. 2 (1957)

In some ways, I hear this concerto as companion piece to the Ravel Concerto in G. They have a similar arch to them except that the Shostakovich is darker and more visceral. [In the same spirit as the Rachmaninov above, I’ve included the composer’s own rendition below, though you’ll have to follow the links in the comments to movements 2 and 3 for this one.]

So, yeah, “no Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, or Brahms”? Nope. And no apologies — but you can write your own list, if you like . . .

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