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 Post subject: Bach A minor, WTC book 1
PostPosted: Wed Jul 06, 2011 8:41 am 
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Here is yet another prelude and fugue ;-) I meant to choose highlights from last year's concert and upload them some months ago, but I find it difficult to listen to my own performances. There are a couple of minor slips in the prelude, but overall I think this one's not too bad.

I'm performing another twelve preludes and fugues on August 3rd (along with a selection from Szymanowski's mazurkas), so I'm especially interested in any feedback on my approach to Bach's music.

Apologies for the hiss in the recording. I played with the noise removal tool in audacity, but the results were terrible (the piano sounded like it was underwater, or with people whispering in the background), so I decided that a bit of old-fashioned hiss was the lesser evil. Personally I find that such things don't bother me, but I know that tastes vary.

By the way, there's a typo on the page http://pianosociety.com/cms/index.php?section=101 . I just had to listen and see how John Lewis Grant could possibly get through this fugue in a minute and two seconds. Actually he takes 3:40, still faster than my version but not crazily so.

Thanks in advance for any comments.


Bach - BWV 865 - Das Wolhtemperierte Clavier I - Prelude and Fugue No.20 in A minor (5:47)

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 Post subject: Re: Bach A minor, WTC book 1
PostPosted: Thu Jul 07, 2011 3:10 am 
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Alexander,
For me, this is perfectly legitimate and artistic playing of Bach. One might quibble about interpretive matters, but it would be all just personal quibbling, and your performance would not be "improved" by any of it, certainly not from me. It think your tempos are right-on for my taste. Your articulation is clean and your ornaments stylistic. If you had a cd of the WTK played entirely this well, I would enjoy listening to it very much. For me, to "quibble" about anything at all, I would want even greater distinction of the voices in a few places. For example, in bar 5 of the fugue, I would restrain the volume of the LH 3rd beat counterpoint to allow greater focus on the answer in the RH (8th notes). Also, wherever a stretto occurs, I would make a bigger deal out of pointing out entries, but that's just me. I like that you're brave enough to re-strike pedal notes if needed! (It is more important to keep the pedal sounding than to try to play the piano like the organ.) After you achieved the Tonic Pedal, you seemed to move it along just a bit faster than before, but if anything, I think it might move a bit slower than before (more ample) to bring such a large statement to it's conclusion. Again, these are minor critiques meant to ... I don't really know what there meant to do. You played it wonderfully! Thanks for the performance.
Eddy
BTW, I wasn't bothered by any hiss.

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 Post subject: Re: Bach A minor, WTC book 1
PostPosted: Thu Jul 07, 2011 3:56 am 
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Alexander,

This is beautifully performed. The prelude is wonderfully vibrant and somewhat "in your face".

As for the fugue, I'm struck by its possible relationship to both nos. 1 and 2. Like the C major, it is in stretto for a good portion of its journey. At the same time its subject resembles that of the C minor.

My only possible quibble is that after the exposition, the fugue begins to feel a little rushed. In the motives of the subject (the "mordant" figure plus two eights) it sounds as if from time to time the last eighth is loosing the tiniest fraction of its duration and the next figure begins just the slightest too soon. I would like to hear a little more breadth in its overall execution.

The only other thing is that I would like to have a little more time between the prelude and the fugue. The prelude is so brief and quick that the listener needs a moment to process the fact that it has ended -- to finally actually "hear" the last few measures.

Scott


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 Post subject: Re: Bach A minor, WTC book 1
PostPosted: Thu Jul 07, 2011 8:37 am 
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A very nice and artistic rendition of this pair ! The fugue is IMO the hardest one in the WTC and it works well in a tempo less hectic than I've tried to do in the past. I think both the P and the F could be a little more clearly articulated, cq. played a little more detached and spiky - I find some of the articulation in the prelude just a tad unclear. also I think the prelude is a little too fast, or maybe not too fast but it just sounds hurried to me. Voicing in the fugue sounds great to me, and I don't concur with Eddy that more 'point-making' would be needed.

The couple of very tiny slips do not bother at all, given it is a live performance, nor does any hiss (I could not even hear any hiss). Indeed it would be preferable to have a natural sound with a little hiss to having a distorted sound without hiss. We can always pretend to be listening to vinyl :)

The only real criticism I have, something which started to irritate me, is how you often seem to slightly shorten the last note of a bar/phrase, and hurl into the next bar/phrase too abruptly. This was rather prominent in the fugue, less so in the prelude. I remember commenting about the same habit with someone else's recording not long ago, can't remember who it was. Is this a conscious thing, maybe a stylistic device ? Or is it just my perception ? Let me know what you think.

I will put this on the site tonight.

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 Post subject: Re: Bach A minor, WTC book 1
PostPosted: Thu Jul 07, 2011 10:54 am 
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Thanks to all for the positive and detailed feedback. With regard to voicing, there's never going to be a solution that pleases everyone, but my own feelings are in line with the advice in Ernest Hutcheson's wonderful book: generally the various countersubjects are more interesting than just listening to the theme over and over again. This is especially true for a fugue like this one that's so saturated with entries: I'm keen to bring out anything that's not the theme!
techneut wrote:
...you often seem to slightly shorten the last note of a bar/phrase, and hurl into the next bar/phrase too abruptly...Is this a conscious thing, maybe a stylistic device ?
And other people mentioned little spots where I hurried. No, it's not deliberate, it's something that creeps in when I'm not 100% certain of my memorisation. When I was much younger it used to be an obvious and serious problem; now it's under control well enough that most people don't notice most of the time, but clearly the pianosociety members are listening carefully!
musical-md wrote:
If you had a cd of the WTK played entirely this well, I would enjoy listening to it very much.
Thanks for the vote of confidence, I'm very flattered! This is indeed a lifelong ambition of mine, but it will take several years yet. By the end of next year, if all goes according to plan, I will have played the whole of the WTC in concert. But the performances aren't consistent enough that I'd want to release all of them; there are plenty of things that I can still improve on. (And then I need to find a recording label that wants to add yet another WTC to the multitude of versions already out there...)

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 Post subject: Re: Bach A minor, WTC book 1
PostPosted: Thu Jul 07, 2011 11:36 am 
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hanysz wrote:
Thanks to all for the positive and detailed feedback. With regard to voicing, there's never going to be a solution that pleases everyone, but my own feelings are in line with the advice in Ernest Hutcheson's wonderful book: generally the various countersubjects are more interesting than just listening to the theme over and over again. This is especially true for a fugue like this one that's so saturated with entries: I'm keen to bring out anything that's not the theme!

So true. In Bach, all the voices are usually interesting in their own right, and it is unfair to push everything to the background as soon as the fugue subject appears. I've heard some famous names doing that, and find it quite irritating and pedantic.

hanysz wrote:
And other people mentioned little spots where I hurried. No, it's not deliberate, it's something that creeps in when I'm not 100% certain of my memorisation. When I was much younger it used to be an obvious and serious problem; now it's under control well enough that most people don't notice most of the time, but clearly the pianosociety members are listening carefully!

Clearly we do - I now see Scott had already mentioned the same thing. And I seem to have a bee in my bonnet about rhythm anyway, to the extent that I find it sometimes hard to apply sufficient rubato :roll:

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 Post subject: Re: Bach A minor, WTC book 1
PostPosted: Thu Jul 07, 2011 6:48 pm 
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Ok, this is up on the site, and I've corrected the wrong time of Grant's fugue (thanks for reporting that).

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 Post subject: Re: Bach A minor, WTC book 1
PostPosted: Thu Jul 07, 2011 11:35 pm 
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techneut wrote:
hanysz wrote:
Thanks to all for the positive and detailed feedback. With regard to voicing, there's never going to be a solution that pleases everyone, but my own feelings are in line with the advice in Ernest Hutcheson's wonderful book: generally the various countersubjects are more interesting than just listening to the theme over and over again. This is especially true for a fugue like this one that's so saturated with entries: I'm keen to bring out anything that's not the theme!

So true. In Bach, all the voices are usually interesting in their own right, and it is unfair to push everything to the background as soon as the fugue subject appears. I've heard some famous names doing that, and find it quite irritating and pedantic.


You both make a great point here. If we consider that a fugue is an exploration of an idea or character, if you will, that character is not precisely the by the end of the fugal journey as it was in the beginning. Also, our relationship to character is altered by the end.

The subject is affected by the enviroment(s) and counterpoints in which it finds itself throughout its journey. I can see that exploring some of these counterpoints could be an interesting idea to follow. Of course in the case of this fugue, if I remember right, there are 14 entries of the subject in recto and 14 in inversion, plus canon and stretto. We should probably be able to realize an entry well enough after the exposition to not have it pointed out.

[Side note for those who may not be familiar with Bach's interest in numberology, 14 is Bach's number: B + A + C + H = 14. (B = 2; A = 1; C = 3; H = 8). This is not the only P & F in which his number occurs. It occurs several times throughout the WTC and often in ways that are too intentional to be conicidental.]

Scott


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 Post subject: Re: Bach A minor, WTC book 1
PostPosted: Fri Jul 08, 2011 11:04 am 
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That´s overall a good performance. The small slips in the prelude don´t bother me, though it´s quite on the fast site (may be nearly to be at the limit of being too fast, but that´s personal taste, of course).

The fugue also has some nice musical moments and ideas. My only suggestion for improvement is, that overall there is a lack of voicing (at some places I discover a bit of it, but it´s all a bit too weak and attentive from my view). There could be more transparency in it.

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 Post subject: Re: Bach A minor, WTC book 1
PostPosted: Fri Jul 08, 2011 2:36 pm 
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Thanks Andreas for listening. I'm not sure what the words "weak and attentive" mean where voicing is concerned. Are you able to explain further? Thanks.

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 Post subject: Re: Bach A minor, WTC book 1
PostPosted: Fri Jul 08, 2011 4:11 pm 
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techneut wrote:
The only real criticism I have, something which started to irritate me, is how you often seem to slightly shorten the last note of a bar/phrase, and hurl into the next bar/phrase too abruptly. This was rather prominent in the fugue, less so in the prelude. I remember commenting about the same habit with someone else's recording not long ago, can't remember who it was. Is this a conscious thing, maybe a stylistic device ? Or is it just my perception ? Let me know what you think.


Mine they were. :oops:

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 Post subject: Re: Bach A minor, WTC book 1
PostPosted: Fri Jul 08, 2011 4:15 pm 
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techneut wrote:
hanysz wrote:
Thanks to all for the positive and detailed feedback. With regard to voicing, there's never going to be a solution that pleases everyone, but my own feelings are in line with the advice in Ernest Hutcheson's wonderful book: generally the various countersubjects are more interesting than just listening to the theme over and over again. This is especially true for a fugue like this one that's so saturated with entries: I'm keen to bring out anything that's not the theme!

So true. In Bach, all the voices are usually interesting in their own right, and it is unfair to push everything to the background as soon as the fugue subject appears. I've heard some famous names doing that, and find it quite irritating and pedantic.


I usually stress the first note of each entry, so that the ear is attracted to that voice. Once that is done, all voices can be played with equal stress but the mind will follow the lead of the stressed note.

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 Post subject: Re: Bach A minor, WTC book 1
PostPosted: Sat Jul 09, 2011 9:56 pm 
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Andrew wrote:
Quote:
I'm not sure what the words "weak and attentive" mean where voicing is concerned. Are you able to explain further? Thanks.


May be I have choosen the wrong English vocabulary here, sorry. That means that you do feeble (flimsy) and cautious approaches of voicing and that the your whole voicing and f.ex. the subject could be elaborated clearer and more forte at some places.
Hope, that explanation is better understandable. Sorry for my quite bad English.
But on the other side your performance is full of good artistic ideas and it´s a pleasure to listen to it!

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 Post subject: Re: Bach A minor, WTC book 1
PostPosted: Wed Jul 13, 2011 6:24 am 
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Alexander,

I know this has been up for a little while, so I apologize in advance for any repetitions of what other members have said. I can just rarely resist the urge to comment on Bach recordings :P

IMHO this is overall very good playing, particularly the prelude. Very solid memory too -- I think there's almost nothing harder than to deliver a Bach fugue in public performance. Some specific comments:

Prelude: Overall, your sentiment seems direct and dramatic, which I like. I agree with some of the other posters that it could be clearer in places and perhaps a bit more even, especially on that 16th semitone motif -- but again, overall very solid. One other detail that bothered me was the ending which seemed a bit abrupt. You could perhaps opt for a more "pull in and park" gesture in the penultimate bar -- i.e., an allargando and a more flourishing gesture to end.

Fugue: This convinces me less, though I know it is one of the more difficult fugues in Book I. I agree with you and others that self-conscious highlighting of the subject voices is unnecessary, but here some of the polyphony seems a bit tentative and unsure and could be more forcefully accentuated (for my taste). To my mind, in Bach it's best to always think retention, slightly holding back of the tempo at climactic points in the phrases, to avoid the natural inclination to rush forward, which is such a temptation especially in Bach's music (IMO).

Hope this makes sense -- I don't mean to sound too critical but it's in my nature I guess :wink: I enjoyed listening and good luck on your WTC endeavors!

Joe

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 Post subject: Re: Bach A minor, WTC book 1
PostPosted: Wed Jul 13, 2011 1:58 pm 
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jlr43 wrote:
I don't mean to sound too critical but it's in my nature I guess

It's OK, I posted it looking for feedback, and there's no use in that if people aren't sometimes critical! Thanks for listening and commenting.

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 Post subject: Re: Bach A minor, WTC book 1
PostPosted: Mon Jul 25, 2011 10:02 pm 
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This is a terrific interpretation. The fugue is the challenge; it is unhurried which is essential in this instance (unlike mine, which is too fast and which i really ought to rethink). What is most important, this reading maintains interest throughout, which very few professional recordings of this fugue manage to do. Technical (meaning "purely" technical) issues are few in this account, and the much more important and challenging issue (in this fugue especially) of seeing and expressing the WHOLE, as opposed to its parts, is conquered or, at minimum, pretty much laid to rest. This is, I think, one of the most prolix (to borrow a literary term), improvised-sounding, and therefore scary fugues that Bach ever put to paper!

Bravo,

JG


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 Post subject: Re: Bach A minor, WTC book 1
PostPosted: Tue Jul 26, 2011 1:51 am 
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Thanks for your generous comments. Indeed I spent a disproportionate amount of time working on this fugue: I hadn't anticipated just how much harder it would be than the others. (Next year I plan to do the B minor from book 1, which I expect to pose similar challenges. I'm not sure whether to feel eager, or terrified.)

The problem isn't just that it's improvised-sounding (as you so well describe), it's that there's such a tight balance between improvisation and structure. There are fugal movements in the toccatas which to my mind are even more improvisatory, yet they are easier to interpret because they seem to have a freer sense of "flow".

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 Post subject: Re: Bach A minor, WTC book 1
PostPosted: Tue Jul 26, 2011 4:36 am 
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Hey---I enjoyed the performance of the Bach. Rather than give any detailed comment, there's just 2 things I noticed:

In the prelude, the opening was wonderful---I loved the intensity, but after beginning on the 3rd entrance of the opening material with the first crescendo, you began to slightly rush, and when the LH comes in with the material, it is too fast---if you really nail down you opening tempo (the first 2 entrances of the material), then I think it could add to the drive and convincing nature of the performance.

Other than that, it was very nice to listen to. Bach is very difficult (I'm terrified of him, but I love playing him...it's a never-ending battle).

Hope this was helpful in some regards,
Rich

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