Pianist Michael Houstoun says Rachmaninoff's Third Concerto is famous for being difficult and enormous. “One performance of this feels like five performances of most other concertos.” But it is much more than an Olympic test piece, he says. “Pianistically it is miraculous. I love all its harmonies, rhythms and melodies, its inner voices. But mostly I love what is below the surface, its great exploration of human emotion.”
Between his fourth and fifth symphonies, Tchaikovsky wrote this programme symphony based on Byron’s poem. Manfred is a despairing wanderer tormented by guilt and memories of lost love. The tragedy is interspersed with more hopeful encounters: the magical delight of a mountain waterfall in the second movement, the peasant dances of the mountain folk in the third. The fourth movement is a kind of infernal dance. In a Romantic fantasy reminiscent of Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique, but with a more hopeful ending, Manfred meets his beloved’s ghost and receives her pardon.