Pianists who dream of a concert career must learn to love Rachmaninoff's second piano concerto: the thing known as "the Rach 2" (pronounced "rock"). The Russian composer garlanded his biggest hit with ripples and ripples of notes, all sheathed in big Romantic (yes, with a capital R) chords that ring and peal atop the orchestra. But Rachmaninoff, a refugee from the Russian Revolution of 1917, wrote and revised his piano concertos in order to pay the rent. Meanwhile he wrote some of his finest music not for piano and orchestra but for a far more impractical—and utterly noncommercial—arrangement: two pianos.

Rachmaninoff called his Symphonic Dances "my last flicker." Beset by illness and despondent that he might never return to Russia, he wrote the Dances in 1940 for the Philadelphia Orchestra. The generic titles of the three movements, "Noon," "Twilight," and "Midnight," don't tell us much; the taciturn Rachmaninoff once decreed, "Titles are a giveaway."

While the later orchestral version of the Dances shimmers and struts, the original two-piano Dances cuts closer to the bone, leading a triumphant march inexorably into decay and dissipation. Rachmaninoff gives plenty of foreboding clues: The pastoral gallop of the opening of "Noon" relents before a compact music-box tune that soon grows wistful. The middle movement stretches the galloping theme into a morose waltz that in turn hints at the slimy resurfacing of the submerged medieval hymn Dies Irae in the final "Midnight." After the work's premiere, one critic captured Dances perfectly, calling it "a rendezvous of ghosts."

Years earlier, in 1901—in fact the same year as the Rach 2—Rachmaninoff wrote Suite No. 2 in C minor for two pianos, a dazzlingly giddy piece without the filler and dowdiness of the overhyped concerto. I especially love the heart-stopping "Tarantella" that storms implacably up and down the keyboard, settles into a series of warbling trills, and finally yields to joyously pounded chords.

As few ensembles bother performing music for two pianos, I'm eager to catch the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center's concert devoted to this side of the great Russian composer. Three pianists, including the legendary Gilbert Kalish, trade off on the Dances and the Suite No. 2. Another trio drawn from the elite of New York classical players, pianist Gilles Vonsattel, Ida Kavafian on violin, and cellist Gary Hoffman, tackle Rachmaninoff's youthful Trio élégiaque No. 2. Don't miss it. recommended

The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center perform Wed Nov 5 at the Recital Hall at Benaroya, 200 University St, 800-838-3006, 7:30 pm, $25/$38.

Classical, Jazz & Avant Calendar

Fri 10/31


Pianist Bill Anschell and company play the sweetly discordant and often sentimental tunes of legendary jazz icon Thelonious Monk. Last summer Anschell explained his adoration of Monk. "The music keeps you on track," Anschell vouched. "You won't play a string of eight notes or swing-inspired melodies. Monk's music has a spirit of its own. Monk brings humor into jazz without making fun of what he's playing or being cheesy." With guest vocalist Carolyn Graye. Hiroshi's Restaurant, 2501 Eastlake Ave E, 726-4966, 7:30–10 pm, free.


This Richard Strauss opera has no overture, save for one introductory chord that writhes and stuns. Elektra writhes and stuns, too: Bent on avenging her father Agamemnon—the Mycenaean king who left to command the siege on Troy—Elektra's heroic struggle is to resist by surviving, only to die in a dance of death after her revenge succeeds. Seattle Opera corralled a fine pair of casts, notably including Rosalind Plowright, who sings on Nov 1, as the desperate and paranoid Klytämnestra. When I saw both casts several weeks ago, Elektra's "death dance" didn't quite climax; nonetheless this production is very good. Also Sat Nov 1. See www.seattleopera .org for details. Sung in German with supertitles in English. McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St, 389-7676, 7:30 pm, $25–$172.


Legendary bandleader and composer Carla Bley teams up with bassist Charlie Haden, who helms the ongoing revival of this swinging, agitprop jazz orchestra. Town Hall, 1119 Eighth Ave, 547-9787, 8 pm, $23–$32.

Sat 11/1


Having become cult favorites for backing Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, this piano, bass, and drums trio inhabits the sparsely populated netherzone between the spiky, poetic disorder of freely improvised music and straight-ahead jazz. Triple Door, 216 Union St, 547-9787, sets at 7 and 9:30 pm, $20/$22, 21+ after 9 pm.


The Cathedral Choir of St. James and Cathedral Soloists present Mozart's Requiem in its intended setting, the church. St. James Cathedral, 804 Ninth Ave, 382-4874, 7:30 pm, free-will donation.


The Earshot Jazz Festival commemorates the 20th anniversary of Horvitz's arrival in Seattle with a three-night microfestival. A seminal presence in the 1980s New York downtown avant jazz scene—Horvitz collaborated with John Zorn, Butch Morris, and many others—the composer and his wife, Robin Holcomb, have continued their compelling cross-genre explorations fusing jazz, classical, and song-based music. The couple has been quietly generous, too, lending their presence to benefit gigs and much more to the local avant scene. Tonight, Horvitz revives his early 1990s rampaging jazz-rock group Pigpen with tough-guy saxophonist Briggan Krauss; on Sun Nov 2 at the Seattle Art Museum Horvitz joins a trio with longtime compadres drummer Bobby Previte and trumpeter Ron Miles; on Mon Nov 3, the West Coast version of Horvitz's New York Composers Orchestra takes the stage at the Triple Door. Tractor Tavern, 5213 Ballard Ave NW, 547-9787, 8:30 pm, $16/$18, 21+.

Support The Stranger

Sun 11/2


A superlative conductor of baroque music, George Shangrow leads the band in three works by J. S. Bach, the Missa Brevis in F major, BWV 233 and two cantatas, "Sie werden aus Saba alle kommen," BWV 65 and "Nimm von uns Herr, du treuer Gott," BWV 101. First Free Methodist Church, 3200 Third Ave W, 800-838-3006, 3 pm, $10–$25.