Because of the film Shine, it's hard for me to separate Rachmaninov and sanity. Whether that film had one iota of truth or not, and there's considerable speculation, the fact remains that being able to play Rachmaninov's 3rd Piano Concerto at anywhere near the accuracy and tempo the score demands is nearly inhuman. By the many accounts I researched, not only does the composer require incredible dexterity and strength, but also unflinching determination—there are sections in one of the versions of cadenzas [Ossia] where the score calls for more than 70 notes per measure!
Regardless of your affinity, or lack thereof, for piano on the concert stage, one must acknowledge the intensity and raw power of Rachmaninov. Which brings me to the performance I was fortunate enough to record last night. Olga Kern and the Rockford Symphony Orchestra presented, as the first piece of a concert showcasing 19th Century Russian music, Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Ms. Kern is an internationally renowned pianist who was the first woman to win the Van Cliburn Piano Competition in more than 30 years in 2001 and has been in great demand ever since. To me, Rhapsody, is a far more interesting piece than any of the concertos. Alternating power and subtle finesse, Ms. Kern held captive some 1500 people for 25 continuous minutes and 24 variations, perhaps introducing them for the first time to the real greatness of Rachmaninov.