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April 1, 2010

A salute to Rachmaninoff's birthday and the arrival of April

It's Rachmaninoff's birthday -- April 1, 1873 -- and that's a good enough reason for me to post a little salute.

I've said before on this blog that I do not understand why the composer is dismissed as inferior by otherwise sensible folks, but, as the old song goes, they're more to be pitied than censured. Personally, I can't get enough of the guy's distinctive lyricism. And, since this April 1st in Baltimore happens to be simply gorgeous, with the sun lighting up blooms spring everywhere, I thought of Rachmaninoff's song "Lilacs."

Being horticulturally challenged, I have no idea when lilacs come out, but that's not as important as the sentiment of the song (text by Beketova), which is about drinking in the fragrance of the flowers and contemplating the promise of true happiness. I found a clip of the divine Jussi Bjorling singing an English version of the song.

Rachmaninoff made a transcription for solo piano of "Lilacs," and I've attached a performance of that version played exquisitely by Evgeny Kissin at a very tender age:

Posted by Tim Smith at 9:15 AM | | Comments (3)


Absolutely, Tim. I've been celebrating this birthday for many years now, remembering Rachmaninoff's amazing contribution to music, and like you, am baffled by the underestimation of his work. Thank you for referencing this piece. For some reason I'd never heard of it before. Very nice, with some interesting personal connections for me. Thanks again. Happy Birthday to Sergei!

Glad you liked it! TIM

I got goosebumps listening to the Kissin video. He is my favorite pianist and gives a glorious rendition of this piece. I love Rachmaninoff's Etudes which set otherwordly moods, for example Op 33 No 2 and Op 32 No 12. They are fun to play!
Some of Rachmaninoff's music can be over the top in Romanticism but I agree with you, Tim. Pity those you don't give Rachmaninoff a chance.

Thanks for commenting and adding to the birthday chorus for Sergei. TIM

Oh, boy, this is ironic: one of my favourite classical works is "Isle Of The Dead," and I just did a full survey of all available recordings 2 nights ago, without even thinking about the man's birthday.

(I've also been on a Stravinsky & Tchaikovsky kick -- I guess I'm having a "Russian Spring!" Rimsky-Korsakov can't be far behind. All of these gentlemen wrote positively "magical" music. ;^)

The winner of my survey (and a delightful surprise to me): Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra on Avie. "Isle..." is an absolute knock-out on this disc. (My previous favourites, the composer's own recording on RCA and Ashkenazy/RCO on Decca, have been unseated.) It's coupled with equally well-wrought renditions of "Symphonic Dances" and "The Rock."

It's about time we heard 'Isle' and 'Rock' around here. TIM

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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