This week we are re-sharing a week of posts from our first summer of Song of the Day! Today’s post by Steven Blier originally ran on July 24, 2015.
I am due to start my work on the Rachmaninoff project soon, and to give my mojo a jump-start I have been working on one of his final songs, “Son” (“Sleep”) from Opus 38. It’s one of those sublime pieces of music that needs to sound tranquil and airborne, even though Rachmaninoff keeps your hands leaping all over the piano. It’s like the sleepy slow movement of a concerto, or a very large bird soaring into flight. I’ve been finding it helpful to listen to Vladimir Ashkenazy play it with soprano Elisabeth Söderström. He made me realize that I am always trying to make the piano disappear, morph it somehow into a pure image, an idea, a story, a dream—or another instrument. Or an orchestra. Or a jazz band. Ashkenazy, of course, has no compunctions about playing right into the piano, letting it sing, giving it a full, corporeal, juicy reality even in a song this diaphanous. He has a less complex relationship to the instrument than I do. And Söderström soars through the piece with freshness and a refreshing, quiet zest.