It has become a tradition by now: At my birthday I offer myself a birthday post about a piece I cannot get enough of plus a picture, linked to nice souvenirs, and of course a relaxed listening session with the music that birthday post is about. I shall celebrate today with Sergei Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in F sharp minor.
The recording by the Royal Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Howard Shelley is one of the oldest CDs in my collection. And Rachmaninov’s first piano concerto is a cherished one. It’s so easy-going, light-hearted, jaunty – invariably it launches me into positive thinking.
The first piano concerto
Rachmaninov wrote this piece in 1891, while he was a student at the Moscow Conservatory. It is his first officially published work and dedicated to Alexander Siloti, his teacher. The composer revised the work thoroughly in 1917. As was the custom for composition students, they were advised to base their compositions on older models and develop their individual style from there on. Rachmaninov’s model was Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto. The difference between the original version and the one the composer presented in 1917 is considerable, it has become denser, more focused on the essence thanks to the knowledge of harmony, orchestration, piano technique and musical form Rachmaninov had acquired over two decades.
Since this is a day of relaxing, I will not bore you with a technical description. The concerto is a beautiful Romantic composition, truly Russian with respect to the required pianistic virtuosity, carries Rachmaninov’s distinctive signature as far as its texture is concerned: utmost sensitivity alternating with massive tutti segments, overly buoyant and optimistic. That should be enough to lure you into some 27 minutes of dropping out of the real world.
At the Aventine hill
To conclude I will tell you the story behind the picture of those wonderful roses. Should you ever be in Rome in May or June, you may want to schedule half a day for a visit at the Roseto Comunale, Rome’s rose garden. It is an island of tranquility and beauty in an otherwise busy city. It is located opposite of the Circus Maximus at the foot of one of the seven hills upon which the city has been built, the Aventine. It is worth going there to admire the blossoming roses and relax in the calm environment. I like flowers, the different forms an colours they take, and most of all I like the fragrances of roses. Enjoy yourself.
© Charles Thibo