Rachmaninov – Piano Concertos – Vol. 1 – Sequeira Costa – CB6026


Sequeira Costa was one of the last students of José Vianna da Motta, a student of Franz Liszt!

“Intensely musical performances of works that are so often treated as mere showpieces. It is pleasant to renew acquaintance with this under-rated pianist, whose command of the virtuoso elements in these works is second to none, but whose inherent musicianship reveals aspects that superficial pianists overlook. Excellent orchestral support and fine recording ensure a strong recommendation”


**See below for more Sequeira Costa recordings**

Piano Concerto No. 1 in F sharp minor, Op. 1 (1890/91 – Revised 1917)

Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43 (1934)

The piano concertos of Sergei Rachmaninov represent the pinnacle of musical romanticism, which found its most significant development in the works of Tchaikovsky and of the Russian Five, especially of Rimsky-Korsakov. The romanticism of Rachmaninov, however, brought an international flavour to this movement and, together with his incredible virtuosity and his long-standing friendship with Russian expats as Vladimir Horowitz and others and thanks to his later assimilation into musical society in the west; he managed to mingle the music of his homeland with the influences of a still-evolving “American” style.

Rachmaninov was born in Russia in 1873 and studied at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, which he entered in 1883. His studies were suspended for a period of two years following the deaths of his sisters but were resumed at the Moscow Conservatory in 1885, a bit of serendipity to which he owed the intercession of the Great Russian pianist, Alexander Siloti, on his behalf.

Rachmaninov’s beginnings as a composer were fraught with disappointments and failure, many of these through no fault of his own. His first symphony, for example, was premiered in 1897 under the baton of Alexander Glazunov, a notorious alcoholic, and the insufficient and chaotic rehearsals led by Glazunov caused the then influential music critic, Cesar Cui, to compare the work to the ten plagues of Egypt proposing that this work could only be enjoyed by the “inmates” of a conservatory in hell.

This failure drove Rachmaninov into a deeply depressive phase that lasted several years, a period during which he produced nothing at all. Further disappointments resulted from other premieres and from negative comments on his music by such Russian legends as Tolstoy who commented on one work by asking if “such music is needed by anyone.”

Essentially a romantic, Rachmaninov never crossed the line into experimental or clearly modern music, a factor which many consider to be the reason for his often fluctuating reputation as a composer. In a genuine sense, although full of striking and creative material, he was neither fish nor fowl but a composer at the end of an era with a clear and passionate devotion to the music and musical traditions of his homeland. At the lowest point in this evaluation of him as an artist, the Grove’s Dictionary of Music described him in its 1954 edition as a composer whose success was “not likely to last.” However, Rachmaninov also had his defenders, among them the star music critic of the New York Times, Harold Schoenberg, who referred to the Grove statement as “outrageous” and “stupid”.

The First Piano Concerto belongs to his student years but is, in and of itself, a mature work. It was initially penned in 1890/1891, during his studies at the Moscow Conservatory. In received its first performance in original form in 1900 in London. However, in 1917, shortly before he immigrated to the United States, Rachmaninov undertook major revisions on the concerto. The work is modelled on the romanticism of Edvard Grieg and Robert Schumann with telling harmonic similarities to the works of Tchaikovsky. Despite this dependency on these romantic models, its tonal fabric displays the harmonic originality that later was to become his hallmark as a composer.

It was many years later, in 1934, that Rachmaninov undertook the composition of this “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini”. Based on the twenty-fourth of Niccolò Paganini’s Caprices for solo violin, the work is structured in concertante form as a series of variations, all performed without interruption. There are no movements in this piece but a steady stream of creative modifications on Paganini’s original theme, the highlight of which has become the well-known eighteenth variation based on an inversion of Paganini’s original tune. The “Paganini Variations” was premiered by the Philadelphia Orchestra in November 1934, with Rachmaninov, himself, as soloist and conducted by Leopold Stokowski. In December of that same year, Rachmaninov, the Philadelphia Orchestra and Stokowski made the premiere recording of the piece at RCA Victor’s Trinity Church Studio in Camden, New Jersey.

As one of the first recording artists of international reputation, Rachmaninov’s recordings are viewed as classic interpretations, both for their musical substance as well as for the purity of his pianism. This reputation as a brilliant recording artist was all but sabotaged by the Edison Company founder, Thomas Alva Edison, who despised Rachmaninov’s playing and referred to him as a “pounder”. Through the influence of the company’s staff pianist, Robert Gayler, Rachmaninov was offered a contract with the Edison Company, but only for ten recordings, Gayler pointing out to Thomas Edison, who was also quite deaf and decidedly unmusical; that he was missing the refinements to be found in the artist’s playing thanks to his progressive hearing loss. This limited contract was later cancelled by Edison who refused to change his mind about Rachmaninov as a pianist. However, the Victor Talking Machine Company (later RCA) engaged Rachmaninov as a recording artist in 1920 with an agreement which remained in force over many years thanks to the success of these early records and to Edison’s short-sightedness. It was not until 1942 that he made is last recording for the Victor Company. During the more than 20 years of his collaboration with RCA, Rachmaninov documented the definitive interpretations of works that were to become the most popular in the piano literature.

The present recording with Sequeira Costa and the Royal Philharmonic unites the listener with the masterworks of this extraordinary romantic period. As the final student of Franz Liszt’s pupil, Vianna da Motta, Sequeira Costa remains the final link in this chain, which stretches from Beethoven and Schumann through the virtuoso works of Liszt and finds its culmination in the music of Rachmaninov. These are interpretations which display this music in historical as interpretative context as culmination of more than a century of musical evolution. These interpretations bring us into an era that showed its feelings and sensibilities through its music. It is Rachmaninov who translated these feelings into the language of our time and gave us insight into a time long past but never to be forgotten in the history of music as an art form and as language of the spirit. © 2015 Kevin Wood.

Review: I – Fanfare Magazine (Issue 39:3 (Jan/Feb 2016)

Sequeira Costa, a Portuguese pianist born in 1929, may be the last living pupil of a pupil of Liszt; he studied with José Vianna da Motta, and later with Mark Hambourg and several other leading pianists of the early 20th century. These recordings were made in 1994 and 1991, respectively.

Costa has a big technique, and the First Concerto, the flashier of these two scores, comes off fairly well. The many gear-shifts, however, accentuate its episodic nature. Christopher Seaman and the Royal Philharmonic provide an alert accompaniment. Costa’s playing in the Paganini Rhapsody is more rhythmically staid, his tone a bit aggressive. This work has a considerable amount of sly humor in it, and that doesn’t come off here. The sound is okay, but somewhat lacking in bass.

Claudio designates this as “Volume 1”; apparently the remaining concertos are to be issued as well. (The Second and Fourth are already listed on ArkivMusic, although curiously the present disc is not.) I’ll be interested to hear what Costa makes of the Third. For the two works given here, I find BIS’s recent issue of Noriko Ogawa’s versions more compelling, and that disc includes the Fourth Concerto as well, as does the classic (and inexpensive) Entremont/Ormandy on Sony. For the complete cycle, I remain partial to Ashkenazy (with Previn or Haitink) and Thibaudet (with Ashkenazy), all on Decca. Richard A. Kaplan.

Review: II – Musical Opinion Magazine (Jan 2016)

Intensely musical performances of works that are so often treated as mere showpieces. It is pleasant to renew acquaintance with this under-rated pianist, whose command of the virtuoso elements in these works is second to none, but whose inherent musicianship reveals aspects that superficial pianists overlook. Excellent orchestral support and fine recording ensure a strong recommendation. Robert Matthew-Walker.

More releases by Claudio Records of Sequeira Costa:

CB6026-2 Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.1/Rhapsody-Paganini

CB6027-2 Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.2 & 3

CB6028-2 Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.3/Suite No.1 Op.5 Fantaisie Tableaux.

CB5571-2 Beethoven Piano Sonatas Vol.1

CB5572-2 Beethoven Piano Sonatas Vol.2

CB5573-2 Beethoven Piano Sonatas Vol.3

CB5574-2 Beethoven Piano Sonatas Vol.4

CB5575-2 Beethoven Piano Sonatas Vol.5

CB5576-2 Beethoven Piano Sonatas Vol.6

CB5577-2 Beethoven Piano Sonatas Vol.7

CB5578-2 Beethoven Piano Sonatas Vol.8

CB5579-2 Beethoven Piano Sonatas Vol.9

CB5580-2 Beethoven Piano Sonatas Vol.10

CB6046-2 Beethoven 250 Complete 32 Piano Sonatas Vol’s 1-10

CR5467-2 Sequeira plays Chopin/4 Ballades/Sonata No.3