My occasional dip into a melancholy mood always catches me by surprise. Slowly I become aware of the signs – it’s 4ish in the morning, I’m sitting here nursing the last of the rum an’ coke I poured several hours ago, and those who are dear to me are not within the arm’s length of where I want them to be.
In the background I hear Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. It could as easily be Willie Nelson (except that is whisky sipping music, and I don’t normally keep a bottle of whiskey in the house.) Or it could as easily be a tune by Hank Williams Senior – except for that, you need to be sitting beside strangers in a dingy bar where you can truly feel all alone in the world.
So Rachmaninoff it is. A kindred spirit in a way. A tortured soul (largely of his own making.) His true brilliance came when he was relatively young, and he spent most of his career chasing his own shadow. He was artistic, and by being sensitive he was easily offended. I don’t know if he smoked, but he did drink some (or so I’m told), and, by being the poster boy for the Russian fatalistic temperament, he found women – especially in America – were particularly drawn to him. When I was studying music theory seriously I discovered he had been the teacher of my teacher. I heard stories … perhaps that’s why I feel a relationship. If he was here now we’d both be sipping rum an’ coke and listening to his music. And probably crying for no good reason I know. And feeling good about it.
The artist on this recording is Yuja Wang, who has done just enough to start attracting attention. Rachmaninoff was a huge hulking man, with hands like meat hooks. Ms Wang appears somewhat diminutive, with not the physical strength to attack some of the passages the way they were intended. On the other hand … Ms Wang has dexterity the composer could never have matched on his best day.
So it’s a draw. Enjoy.