Say I as a pianist want to play/practice Saint-Saens's second piano concerto, but I happen to not have a symphony orchestra in my living room. How can I play this? Are there "pianoless" recordings to play along with?


These types of recordings are usually called or "play-alongs" or "play-a-longs." A company called Music Minus One has been making classical music play-alongs since the 1950s. The company is now owned by Hal Leonard. They produce accompaniments for some of the most famous concertos for all instruments, including Saint-Saen's 2nd Piano Concerto. For the play-alongs, they record real orchestras accompanying professional soloists. This means you are forced to mostly use that soloist's interpretive choices, but they won't be as robotic as MIDI accompaniment, which is another option.

Play-alongs also exist for the jazz, blues, rock, and pop genres.

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    I’m pretty sure these are called “play-alongs”, not “play-a-longs”. Jun 11 '19 at 14:17
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    I've updated the answer to include both. The Jamey Aebersold company is one of the largest producers of jazz play-alongs, and they use the phrase "play-a-long" on all of their volumes, and I think it may be used by other publishers as well.
    – Peter
    Jun 11 '19 at 14:59
  • I'm a bit confused by you saying they accompany professional soloists. So the piano IS a part of the recording? That seems at odds with how you've described it. Can you clarify that point? Jun 13 '19 at 16:39
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    @temporary_user_name - This varies depending on the company producing the play-along. Generally, the soloist and accompaniment are recorded at the same time, but they are acoustically isolated (i.e. in separate rooms). The Music Minus One products include a CD with tracks that include the soloist and orchestra together (for listening) and tracks with just the orchestra alone (for practicing). Aebersold books are recorded similarly but only the backing tracks are actually released (if you listen really closely you can sometimes faintly hear the soloist).
    – Peter
    Jun 13 '19 at 17:07
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    I have seen these but never tried them. Do you need impeccable timing for passages when only the soloist is playing so that the orchestra rejoins at the right time?
    – badjohn
    Jun 15 '19 at 9:30

I can't speak for recordings, but most concertos (at least the famous ones) have a piano arrangement of the orchestra. This way, the soloist can practice playing with the accompaniment, but the accompaniment is simply someone at another piano.

As one famous example of this, consider the following comedy bit by Victor Borge that uses Tchavikovsky's First Piano Concerto.

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    In fact, composers of such concertos would work on a piano (in the case of piano concertos, for the solo part anyway already) to figure out the orchestra part. Just as an example, Dvořák had a cello concerto to-be lying around for decades as a draft for cello and piano accompaniment. Jun 11 '19 at 15:55

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