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Romantic stirrings Falletta and BPO soar with Rachmaninoff

Most people know Sergei Rachmaninoff's "Variations on a Theme of Paganini." They think of it as the theme from the Christopher Reeve movie "Somewhere in Time."

The variation used in that movie is haunting, romantic, intoxicating. In the context of the complete work, though, it's even more stunning.

"It's so beautiful. But you don't get the full impact of it without the rest of the piece. It's actually the main theme, inverted," says Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra Music Director JoAnn Falletta, who will be conducting the music this weekend in Kleinhans Music Hall, in a performance featuring pianist William Wolfram.

Like millions of other listeners, Falletta thrills to the dark romance of Rachmaninoff's music and life.

"I think of him as the last in a very long line of virtuoso composers -- Paganini, Liszt," she reflects. "He was a throwback to a golden age."

In some ways, Rachmaninoff lived "Dr. Zhivago." He was Russian nobility, and the Bolsheviks took over his family's estate, driving them out. He settled in America and enjoyed a glamorous career (which included several performances in Kleinhans). But he never quite recovered from the trauma.

"It was so sad," Falletta muses. "He was caught up in a time warp. He was such a handsome man, but there was such a sorrow in his eyes. He suffered from depression a lot. He always hoped to go back to Russia, always thought the Tsar would come back."

The overt romanticism of Rachmaninoff's music speaks of the haunting beauty of the bygone era he loved.

This weekend, Wolfram will be on hand to perform the beloved "Variations on a Theme of Paganini." Wolfram pinch-hit several years ago for Andre Watts, who bowed out at the last minute of a performance of Beethoven's "Emperor" Concerto.

Also on the program will be Ottorino Respighi's stirring "Church Windows." This colorful music, which culminates in an over-the-top tribute to Gregorian chant, brought the house down when the BPO performed it not long ago in St. Joseph Cathedral.

Respighi's "Brazilian Impressions" and Rossini's Overture to "The Turk in Italy" round out the evening. The BPO will shortly be recording the Respighi works for an upcoming disc on the Naxos label.

PREVIEW

WHAT: Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra presents Rossini, Rachmaninoff and Respighi

WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: Kleinhans Music Hall, Symphony Circle

TICKETS: $10-$67 (box office, Tickets.com)

INFO: 885-5000, (800) 699-3168 or www.bpo.org.

e-mail: mkunz@buffnews.com

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