Today's Classical Music Video

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Weissenberg and Karajan Play Rachmaninov

Alexis Weissenberg died this past Sunday at the age of 82. He had had an erratic career. He was born in Bulgaria but went to New York to study at Juilliard in 1946. The very next year he made his professional debut in New York playing Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 3 with Szell and the NY Philharmonic. He created a sensation and was immediately embarked on a major career. But for all his brilliance Weissenberg was a vulnerable human being. Like Horowitz before him he withdrew from concertizing in 1957 for several years. The pressure of playing in public had become overwhelming.

Weissenberg returning to the concert circuit in 1966 and quickly re-established himself as an important artist. Karajan recognized his greatness and they often collaborated in the years to come. They recorded all the Beethoven concertos and Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2. In our video they are seen together with the Berlin Philharmonic in a film from 1973.

I interviewed Weissenberg in the 1980s and he turned out to be one of the most articulate and thoughtful artists I had ever come across. He seemed to be interested in everything and particularly loved the cut and thrust of intellectual discussion. We talked for hours.

But the demons of performing in public never really left him and he was again forced to withdraw from the stage. I believe he would much rather have followed Glenn Gould's example and stopped concertizing entirely. Like Gould he was a perfectionship and a man who would rather explore ideas than perform.

For more on Weissenberg visit his website at At his best he was a unique and exciting artist. The performance of Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2 with Karajan was sublime and Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 3 with Pretre and the Chicago Symphony was equally good.

Paul E. Robinson

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