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Five concerto favorites

Sibelius, Elgar, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Brahams, Korngold, Rachmaninoff

Rachmaninoff looms over every list of favorite concertos.
Rachmaninoff looms over every list of favorite concertos.

Some big-time concertos, such as Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 are coming up in the next few months. I wonder, if I had to pick five “desert island” concertos would any of these three be included? Here are my five all-time favorite concertos. These are not the greatest concertos of all time because who can make such a determination? These are but five concertos I have enjoyed the most over the years. They are in no particular order.


Jean Sibelius’s Violin Concerto was a late-comer to my five. For years I didn’t get it. I would read that it was the preeminent concerto in the violin repertoire but I couldn’t hear it. The Sibelius is a sneaky difficult piece for the soloist. It is not overtly flashy but requires extreme mastery of tone and emotional intelligence. Without these, a performance of the Sibelius can become rather tedious.


Video:

Sibelius: Violin Concerto in D Minor




I first experienced Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto in the 1998 film Hilary and Jackie. The Elgar was a signature piece of cellist Jacqueline Du Pre; Jackie, and the film showcased the music quite well. Since then I’ve listened to it as recorded by several cellists but I keep coming back to the Du Pre version conducted by her then-husband Daniel Barenboim.


Video:

Elgar: Cello Concerto




Another film that stirred my early classical emotions was, of course, Amadeus. From that film, I took Mozart’s Piano Concertos Nos. 20 and 21. Yes, I understand that this already brings my list to four but I simply can’t pick one over the other so I’m counting those two as a tie and so this list of five is now six.


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My relationship with Pytor Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 goes back to the sixth grade when I received a compilation set of classical music LPs for Christmas. Tchaikovsky was featured heavily and his piano concerto is has been with me longer than any other here. 


Video:

Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1




Before we get to the final concerto, here a few honorable mentions. Of the five Beethoven piano concertos, the fifth gets most of the flowers. However, I find his Piano Concerto No. 4 to be my favorite. The second movement is an existential masterpiece. Johannes Brahms’s Violin Concerto* might be amongst my five were we taking about five concertos to hear performed live by a master violinist. As a recorded experience I find it to be lacking. Erich Korngold’s Violin Concerto is underrated. Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G has the distinction of being my personal soundtrack when I hit the emotional rock bottom of my life.


My final favorite concerto In Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2. From the ominous brooding of the opening measures to the agonizing beauty of the second movement to the energetic optimism of the final movement, this concerto is perfect. I prefer the recording with pianist Earl Wild.


Video:

Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 2






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Rachmaninoff looms over every list of favorite concertos.
Rachmaninoff looms over every list of favorite concertos.

Some big-time concertos, such as Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 are coming up in the next few months. I wonder, if I had to pick five “desert island” concertos would any of these three be included? Here are my five all-time favorite concertos. These are not the greatest concertos of all time because who can make such a determination? These are but five concertos I have enjoyed the most over the years. They are in no particular order.


Jean Sibelius’s Violin Concerto was a late-comer to my five. For years I didn’t get it. I would read that it was the preeminent concerto in the violin repertoire but I couldn’t hear it. The Sibelius is a sneaky difficult piece for the soloist. It is not overtly flashy but requires extreme mastery of tone and emotional intelligence. Without these, a performance of the Sibelius can become rather tedious.


Video:

Sibelius: Violin Concerto in D Minor




I first experienced Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto in the 1998 film Hilary and Jackie. The Elgar was a signature piece of cellist Jacqueline Du Pre; Jackie, and the film showcased the music quite well. Since then I’ve listened to it as recorded by several cellists but I keep coming back to the Du Pre version conducted by her then-husband Daniel Barenboim.


Video:

Elgar: Cello Concerto




Another film that stirred my early classical emotions was, of course, Amadeus. From that film, I took Mozart’s Piano Concertos Nos. 20 and 21. Yes, I understand that this already brings my list to four but I simply can’t pick one over the other so I’m counting those two as a tie and so this list of five is now six.


Sponsored
Sponsored

My relationship with Pytor Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 goes back to the sixth grade when I received a compilation set of classical music LPs for Christmas. Tchaikovsky was featured heavily and his piano concerto is has been with me longer than any other here. 


Video:

Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1




Before we get to the final concerto, here a few honorable mentions. Of the five Beethoven piano concertos, the fifth gets most of the flowers. However, I find his Piano Concerto No. 4 to be my favorite. The second movement is an existential masterpiece. Johannes Brahms’s Violin Concerto* might be amongst my five were we taking about five concertos to hear performed live by a master violinist. As a recorded experience I find it to be lacking. Erich Korngold’s Violin Concerto is underrated. Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G has the distinction of being my personal soundtrack when I hit the emotional rock bottom of my life.


My final favorite concerto In Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2. From the ominous brooding of the opening measures to the agonizing beauty of the second movement to the energetic optimism of the final movement, this concerto is perfect. I prefer the recording with pianist Earl Wild.


Video:

Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 2






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