David, thank you for posting these. I've gained a new respect for a composer I've largely ignored in the past--this is a wonderful discovery.
The interaction between composers and interpreters is endlessly fascinating. I think it's instructive to compare music with other art forms, especially theatre. How many productions of Shakespeare have you seen where people think nothing of the action being set in the wrong century? Yet we pianists sweat over a tiny little metronome mark.
I'd like to make two specific comments about your performance of these pieces. Regarding op 24/1 my first thought on seeing the score (thanks to imslp.org) was that it should unfold slowly, like someone revealing a secret--it reminds me of the Hugo Wolf song Verborgenheit
. So I don't mind the slow metronome mark in this case. But at a faster tempo it could take on a fresher air, almost like an opening scene of a Tchaikovsky ballet--as you say, a sense of expectation. However, to make this interpretation work, your rendition must be much less "vertical"--I feel that the chords get in the way a little--you need to focus on shaping the melody, and make the inner voices much quieter.
Opus 40/3 is indeed a little cryptic. It makes more sense in the context of opus 40 as a whole: it's the moment of repose between two much livelier pieces. I'd like to draw your attention here to the phrase lengths. It starts with a four bar phrase, then six bars in one phrase; later it's broken up into shorter segments. You need just a little bit more rubato (without being tasteless) to bind the long phrases together. You do slow down a little at the end of a phrase and breathe very nicely, but what's missing is a slight forward movement in the middle of the phrase. Imagine someone singing this melody, what an effort it would be to do bars 5-10 in one breath at this slow tempo: surely they would naturally flow a little more, especially leading to the E flat in bar 8 (which is not
the end of the phrase!) Then the changing phrase lengths later on help to give a sense of direction.
It's marked lento, a quarter = 42
...It would be a fascinating study (IMO) to study the tempos of music to see if there are some that are outside "physiologic." Can a pattern be too slow
or too fast
to fall within the scope of human appreciation? Certainly this is true with frequency of sound. Just because a metronome can go as slow as the 40s does that mean that music (a strictly human affair) does also?
Of course when you're playing at quarter=42, you have to ask whether the audience is really hearing it at 42, or whether they perceive a tempo of eighth=84. (Likewise, if you're playing quarter=176, are people actually hearing half note=88?)
After much experimentation, my current opinion is that performers should be able to feel a beat as slow as 30, in order to sustain a sense of line in slow movements. I'm sometimes frustrated that standard metronomes don't go slower than 40, and occasionally turn my computer to make a click track at a slower tempo. But of course the audience isn't obliged to feel the music the same way I do.