The Opus 23 preludes were dedicated to Rachmaninov's first cousin, Alexander Siloti, and musicologist James Frazier notes that they owe much of their style to the second piano concerto (especially in the luscious B section). Ashkenazy on the preludes: they contain “an unmistakable Russian intensity, strong lyrical melodies, and changes of character that range from sublime sweetness to passionate virtuosity.”
Thailand based British expatriate pianist Paul Barton adds, that you get all these attributes in one go with the G minor prelude. In Paul's Youtube tutorial he describes the G minor prelude as a Paradox like so much of Rachminov's music - it's about staying in control while letting go at the same time; the immense technical challenge of playing the notes vs. at time soaring, passionate music, seeming desperate to escape from them. Written in 1901, this prelude is second in popularity to the C Sharp minor (opus 3) Prelude but Paul is convinced that popularity of the G minor is increasing. Paul has clearly read Angela Glover's work and quotes from legendary pianist Josef Hoffman - anyone who could write this (prelude) must be noble. Paul describes the form of this prelude like a Classical Rondo with A-B-Transition-A form and the character of the 'B' section as ephereal, poignant with a Spanish flavour and feels like an improvisation [Thiollier].
Paul Barton's tutorial and tips of how to practice and play the G Minor Prelude
Excerpt of Paul Barton's tips:
- First learn the notes. Try to resist playing at full speed to keep the musical ideas and enthusiasm fresh.
- Avoid any tension in your arms, shoulders and wrists
- Section A - Play Chords and Change Position [3:00] Play the first chord in any group which is repeated. Play it once so avoid repeating them first of all (rather than 3 times as indicated), in order to make the shape of the chords and to be able to change position,
- It's a great piece to work and focus on, you can work on chords in one section then appegios in another.
- Middle section or 'B Section' which creates a 'trio effect' - overemphasize in your practice the countermelody (so you can bring this out later) [10:30]
- There are no pedal markings indicated in the score (so you'll need to balance the clarity of the melody in relation to the staccato chords)
- In the B section, if you can't reach all the notes as Rachmaninov had extremely large hands, drop a note but retain those notes in the chord that retains the best colour.
Paul Barton's favourite performance of the G Minor Prelude is by Vladimir Ashkenazy.
- An Annotated Catalogue of the Major Piano Works of Sergei Rachmaninoff [Chapter 8 Preludes], Angela Glover, Florida State University
- John Bell Young masterclass Part 1 of 2 (Youtube) filmed at the Univerisity of Florida, Tampa.
- Sheet Music (IMSLP)
- "Ten Preludes, Opus 23", Rachmaninov - Earl Wilde CD Notes by James E Frazier, P 15, 2008