Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2

ECU Symphony with Hochman Reaches New Level

September 17, 2011 - Greenville, NC:

In another program devised by another music director, the Sibelius symphony would have been a glorious conclusion, but Richter teamed up with Benjamin Hochman, the highly skilled Israeli-born pianist who has started his second year on the ECU faculty, in presenting one of the most popular pieces in the piano literature as the second part of this concert. The Rachmaninoff concerto is familiar to so many, from concerts and recordings, that soloist and orchestra run the risk of disappointing listeners if mistakes or differences in interpretation occur too frequently.

Such was not the case in this concert, however. Hochman gave an assured reading of this romantic masterpiece, and the ECU players provided splendid accompaniment throughout. Hochman's playing captured the beauty and power of Rachmaninoff's composition, and he provided both intensity and majesty as well as gracefulness and lyricism. At times his playing had a liquid quality; at other times, pure fire.

The opening "moderato" movement, which actually starts with a piano solo of several dark chords, might have been played at a bit more leisurely tempo than one was accustomed to, but that was not an indication that Richter and Hochman were going to slow down just because the accompaniment came from a student orchestra. Indeed, the piece builds to a serious let-out-the-stops conclusion with the famous theme in the final "allegro scherzando" movement, and the ECU players were up to the challenge of keeping pace with the soloist, especially at the grand closing, without sacrificing any of the emotional power of the famous melody line.

A piece of such high romanticism must contain at least some traps for students still learning the subtleties and intricacies of the classical repertoire, and this must be especially true of learning to play with a soloist. Yet under Richter's direction, the ECU orchestra had all the attacks down, excellent timing and precise entrances and releases, and the group provided wonderful backing for Hochman's elegant playing.

Classical Voice of North Carolina