In 1895, Rachmaninov began work on his first substantial piece, the Symphony No. 1 in D minor. It was premiered in 1897 and was conducted by the famed musician Alexander Glazunov. The performance was a disaster and the resulting critical reception robbed Rachmaninov of his confidence to compose for some 3 years. With the help of Dr Nikolai Dahl, Rachmaninov finally regained faith in his compositional prowess and started writing his second piano concerto. This proved to be a phenomenal success. In 1901, the year the concerto premiered, Rachmaninov composed the Prelude in G minor, now No. 5 of his set of Op. 23. No.5 was actually the first prelude of the set, with the other 9 preludes being composed in 1903. The fifth Prelude encases melting lyricism (meno mosso) within a militant energy (alla macia).
Nicholas McCarthy notes “When I was a first year student at the Royal College of Music, it seemed that every one of my fellow piano colleagues was demonstrating their technical skill by endlessly playing this prelude, a piece that I happen to love and one that I thought impossible for me to play with just one hand. Fast forward some years later and I was driving home from a concert, listening to a classical radio station, when this prelude was played. A light bulb lit up in my head and I had the idea that I would arrange the prelude for the left hand alone. I cannot take all the credit for this arrangement. I reached out to my friend – the fantastic pianist, composer and arranger Artur Cimirro – for any thoughts on how to successfully arrange the middle section of the prelude. In just a few short days, he had also arranged his own version of this prelude and it’s his middle section that I play to this day. You will see our differing arrangements throughout the work: each one is suited for a different hand size and different technique.”