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 Post subject: Rachmaninov, Prelude Op. 23, No. 1 in F# minor
PostPosted: Mon Oct 22, 2012 10:36 pm 
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Sergei Rachmaninov first performed his Preludes Op. 23 c. 1900 for the Prison Concerts, a charity event, arranged by Princess Lieven at the Moscow Nobility Hall. Rachmaninov dedicated this volume to Alexander Siloti, his cousin and second piano teacher (Nicolai Zverev having been his first teacher).

The Prelude No. 1 in F#m is a very brooding and searching piece. The atmosphere seems to be a dreary, rainy day. This music has four levels of writing—the melody in the right hand, duets in the bass, background accompaniment, and cross-overs by the arms. The left hand mostly plays a basso ostinato which is generally subdued unless it is playing the melody.

I hope you’ll enjoy hearing this prelude.

Comments welcome.

Piano: Baldwin Model L Artist Grand (6’3”) with lid fully open
Recorder: Korg MR-1000
Microphones: Earthworks TC-20 matched pair of small diaphragm omni-directional condenser mics in A-B configuration

David

Rachmaninov - Prelude in F# minor, Op. 23, No. 1 (2:48)

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Last edited by Rachfan on Sat Nov 03, 2012 3:01 am, edited 15 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Rachmaninov, Prelude Op. 23, No. 1 in F# minor
PostPosted: Tue Oct 23, 2012 2:51 pm 
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Hi David,

I had a listen to your recording of this Prelude by Rachmaninov. I think you play this very well, the tempo seems just right, and your phrasing fits the character of the piece IMO. Brooding, yes, is a word I would use to describe the character of this piece.

Interesting history that this was premiered at a prison concert? I can't imagine being locked up and listening to this. :roll: I suppose, on top of incarceration, it would add a reason to feel melancholy :lol:

The tags look correct. I'll try to upload this tonite.

Riley

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 Post subject: Re: Rachmaninov, Prelude Op. 23, No. 1 in F# minor
PostPosted: Tue Oct 23, 2012 4:21 pm 
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Hi Riley,

Probably few people know of the Prison Concerts, but it's true. Good thing you weren't there as they might have thrown away the key! :lol:

Yes, this piece is marked largo, but Rachmaninoff added a metronome marking of MM = 58 to which I tried to adhere. I found the marking a bit odd as it might even be considered as a slow andante, but evidently that's what he wanted. If you listen to Richter and Ashkenazy, they play the piece slowly--too slowly--such that it sounds aimless in my opinion. I'm not known as a speed demon but I felt compelled to honor the composer's wishes with this, as it changes the whole character of the piece as contrasted with the slower renditions.

I'm glad you enjoyed hearing this recording. Thanks!

David

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 Post subject: Re: Rachmaninov, Prelude Op. 23, No. 1 in F# minor
PostPosted: Tue Oct 23, 2012 6:17 pm 
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That was very nice, David. Sure is brooding, which is of course wonderful. I wonder though if it was a good idea to play at a prison. Were there inmates at these prison concerts? I think this would sort of music would put them into a bad mood....

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 Post subject: Re: Rachmaninov, Prelude Op. 23, No. 1 in F# minor
PostPosted: Tue Oct 23, 2012 6:31 pm 
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Hi Monica,

Glad you liked the piece and thanks for that compliment.

No, the concert wasn't actually held at the prison, but instead at the Moscow Nobility Hall. So only the ticket money went to the prison charity, not the concert goers. lol: Probably at the turn of the century conditions in Russian prisons were quite dire. Rachmaninoff played all 10 of the preludes in his Op. 23 there. I believe that today the hall is called the Pillar Hall which is reputed to have outstanding acoustics.

David

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 Post subject: Re: Rachmaninov, Prelude Op. 23, No. 1 in F# minor
PostPosted: Wed Oct 24, 2012 6:00 pm 
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hi, David!

nice performance, though I'm used to a much slower version of it.
you must know what you're doing, since you're an ultra-romantic expert. :lol:

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 Post subject: Re: Rachmaninov, Prelude Op. 23, No. 1 in F# minor
PostPosted: Wed Oct 24, 2012 9:33 pm 
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Hi Luis,

You're quite right, I did not fall into the ponderous tempo established by Richter and Ashkenazy, as examples. (I have both their recordings.) The score is marked largo, but Rachmaninoff's metronome marking to further clarify that was a quarter note = 58. Clearly he was specifying the high end of largo which overlaps with the bottom range for andante. So I decided to respect his vision. A couple of people who messaged me elsewhere lauded that choice, as they felt that it better brings out the long line of the music, giving it more coherency. I can tell you it also makes the prelude more difficult to play if one does not dawdle over it!

I'm happy that you enjoyed hearing it. Thanks for commenting!

David

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 Post subject: Re: Rachmaninov, Prelude Op. 23, No. 1 in F# minor
PostPosted: Wed Oct 24, 2012 10:41 pm 
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David,

Great choice of repertoire, but I have to say I'm not really convinced by your performance here. It may be true that Rachmaninoff used those metronome markings; I have seen them in the Schirmer editions as well, but I've also found that Rachmaninoff himself often doesn't conform to them, as in the case of the G minor, op. 23, no. 5, which I believe was marked 108 for the quarter, a ridiculous tempo that would be almost impossible to play (so if he marked it that way, I'm not sure what he was thinking :) ).

To me, this seems rather way too fast to give the line a chance to breathe and the melody to sing (keeping aside the largo marking and the metronome marking). What I hear is a great deal of pounding out of the accompaniment, which IMHO needs to be more misterioso and legato. As a listener, I don't particularly want to hear "Rachmaninoff's vision" (whatever that is); I want to hear your interpretation. And with the rather muddy pedaling and treble liine that's lost against the heavy-handed bass, I'm finding that difficult to hear. A couple of other details that seemed odd in context were the rolled chord (like the one right at the beginning), which, given your tempo, was not fluid and was so much slower than the surrounding texture; also the inner voices near the climax, which seem a bit jabbed out and should be smoother.

Sorry to be a bit critical on this. Just my opinion of course. Hopefully these comments are of some use to you.

Joe

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 Post subject: Re: Rachmaninov, Prelude Op. 23, No. 1 in F# minor
PostPosted: Thu Oct 25, 2012 3:22 am 
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Hi Joe,

Thanks for your comments, but sorry you found nothing to like here.

FYI, Bossey & Hawkes carries the same tempo indications. To my ears the painfully slow renditions of Richter and Ashkenazy sound as if they get lost with the music in a dense thicket and were never seen again. It something to be avoided in my opinion.

I must say this is the first time I've ever been accused of "pounding"! There are crescendos present, and my sense is that the accompaniment must participate in them as long as the melody still soars above it. I believe I largely accomplished that, even at the climax. Recently the key dip on my piano was adjusted by the technician, and the action then seemed a bit heavier. I raised the hammers about 1/16" to lessen the hammer blow distance very slightly to counteract that, but it's still firm. So I might have been compensating for that to an extent (to make sure that the LH notes all sounded), but not to an extreme in my opinion. I tried to do it as artfully as I could.

The over pedaling you hear could well be the light reverberation that I added when processing the recording.

Like you, I used to play the appogiaturas (being "small notes") more quickly, but then there was criticism elsewhere that they didn't sound like true 8th notes--too fast. So I played them more leisurely here. Goes to show, you can't please all of them all of the time.

As for the coda chords, the objective there is not to emphasize bringing out the middle voices; rather it's to voice the tops of the RH chords with the 5th finger and the thumb for the tops of the LH chords. They were played with relaxed arm weight with no "jabbing" whatsoever. In fact, I thought I handled the diminuendo there effectively. Had I been jabbing, that would have been utterly impossible.

David

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 Post subject: Re: Rachmaninov, Prelude Op. 23, No. 1 in F# minor
PostPosted: Thu Oct 25, 2012 1:15 pm 
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It's generally a good recording but not entirely convincing (which is not to say there's nothing to like !) I would not have used the word pounding, but I have to agree with Joe that the LH accompaniment is a bit laboured, and actually not very accurate in places. This prelude is more difficult than it sounds (I know it well, having once posted a recording on the site which I later withdrew). The tempo seems too fast to me also, but I have not heard Richter and Ashkenazy. I'm just listening to Lebenstedt's recording on the site and there are so many read errors that nowadays it would not have been allowed. As for this here recording, I think you should consider a re-recording, cleaning up the LH part and pedaling.

jlr43 wrote:
As a listener, I don't particularly want to hear "Rachmaninoff's vision" (whatever that is); I want to hear your interpretation.

This I find a dangerous statement. The performer's personal view is important, and should be heard, but it is IMO the composers' vision what counts most. I know that many people are primarily interested in comparing different interpretations of the same piece, as if the performer and performance are somehow more important than the music is itself. Of course this is a discussion that has raged many times here, and I guess opinions will be divided on it forever.

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 Post subject: Re: Rachmaninov, Prelude Op. 23, No. 1 in F# minor
PostPosted: Thu Oct 25, 2012 4:05 pm 
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Quote:
This I find a dangerous statement. The performer's personal view is important, and should be heard, but it is IMO the composers' vision what counts most. I know that many people are primarily interested in comparing different interpretations of the same piece, as if the performer and performance are somehow more important than the music is itself. Of course this is a discussion that has raged many times here, and I guess opinions will be divided on it forever.


When making a statement, I'm not concerned about whether it is "dangerous," only about whether it is true or false. The falsehood of the phrase composer's "vision" or "intentions," which has been bandied about for some time now without people stopping to question what it really means, is, I believe, twofold. First, it is a concept that we can know nothing about. We cannot see into the composer's mind at the time he wrote the work to know what he really meant or intended. We have the score, sure, but that only consists of the composer's external markings that still have to be interpreted by the performer (e.g., two different performers might have different conceptions of what a staccato or a fortissimo is in the context of the piece). And even then, many markings may have been omitted or be left up to the performer (e.g., what is the right touch in Bach, what does one do when Rachmaninoff neglects to tell us about what to do dynamically). This leads me to the second mistake with using the phrase in the crontext of music. That is, that it ignores the role of the musical performer as one who is re-creating the work as if it was being heard for the first time. That is, unlike a painting, a musical work needs, and indeed requires, a personal voice to interpret it. Therefore, only the performer's "intentions" can really be discussed. If one has a good and convincing argument for why one does something, there shouldn't be a problem with deviating from the score. The historical evidence indicates that performers as diverse as Mozart, Chopin, Liszt, and Rachmaninoff all did so themselves and, once they release their scores to the world, they would be hypocrites if they were to say that others couldn't do so too.

In terms of Rachmaninoff, he was quite accepting of others' interpretations and, in fact, thought Horowitz played the Rachmaninoff second sonata and third concerto better than he. Their performances of the third concerto couldn't be more different. I love both performances, find them both deeply original, and would be hard-pressed to pick the better one. Why anyone would want to listen to Rubinstein's bland and boring playing after this is beyond me.

Chris, I remember your once saying that one of your goals is to let the music breathe or speak for itself. I didn't respond to that at the time, but now my retort would be that if we did that, we wouldn't need interpreters. :P

Joe

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 Post subject: Re: Rachmaninov, Prelude Op. 23, No. 1 in F# minor
PostPosted: Thu Oct 25, 2012 5:06 pm 
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jlr43 wrote:
Chris, I remember your once saying that one of your goals is to let the music breathe or speak for itself. I didn't respond to that at the time, but now my retort would be that if we did that, we wouldn't need interpreters. :P

Hm, who's to say what we need and what we don't. Do we need thousands of interpretations of the WTC, all promoting their own unique vision ? I'm not sure. Do we need my interpretations ? Certainly not, but alas that does not deter me. Do we need your interpretations ? You tell me. Should we amateurs actually bother to record music that generations of pianists have played better and more uniquely than we ever could ? The question does not bear thinking about. This is why I enjoy presenting unknown fluff.

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 Post subject: Re: Rachmaninov, Prelude Op. 23, No. 1 in F# minor
PostPosted: Thu Oct 25, 2012 6:12 pm 
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Quote:
Do we need thousands of interpretations of the WTC, all promoting their own unique vision ? I'm not sure.


Ideally, yes. That's what makes listening to musical performance interesting, when people approach it without being terrified about being "correct" (as if anyone really knew what that was beyond, say, correct notes and rhythm and, to a limited extent, score markings). And with a genius as deep as Bach's, there really are practically an infinite number of things to say.

Quote:
Do we need my interpretations ? Certainly not, but alas that does not deter me.


Sure! And I enjoy listening to them despite my lengthy technical nitpicking :P

Quote:
Do we need your interpretations ? You tell me.


God knows. :) I like to think so. :wink: I interpret Bach in a more solid, serious manner as you have often noted, sometimes a bit derisively, in your comments. That may differ markedly from your conception and that's fine. It also doesn't mean that I haven't often used your comments to improve, expand, or temper my own take on the music.

Quote:
Should we amateurs actually bother to record music that generations of pianists have played better and more uniquely than we ever could ? The question does not bear thinking about. This is why I enjoy presenting unknown fluff.


I don't believe this is true. First of all, the line between amateur and professional is not black and white in a qualitative sense. There may be a general level of evenness and accuracy that is expected of professionals, but I've heard what is, to my ears, mediocre professional playing in both such regards before (professional only meaning what one is paid to do, so I admit I was wrong to ever bring that word up in the past). I've also heard what is, to my ears, fantastic amateur playing in most respects. Second, there is no such thing as "more unique." Unique means one of a kind and therefore does not admit of qualification. That is, to me, part of what makes listening to others so interesting. I may have my preference and could argue why, in my limited opinion, one performance is better than another, but that particular issue would just be my argument and would attempt to be without reference to what any other performer did. As for playing works by lesser-known composers, I would say that's fine as long as you're doing it for the right reasons. If you honestly think it's original music that's worthy of a listen or has been neglected, then all the power to you, but if it's to hide from criticism or because you think everything's been said about, say, Bach, Chopin, or Schubert, then I would beg to differ. About Marc Andre-Hamelin's music (and playing), I can only say yuck. :evil: :P

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 Post subject: Re: Rachmaninov, Prelude Op. 23, No. 1 in F# minor
PostPosted: Thu Oct 25, 2012 7:20 pm 
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Sorry David for hijacking your thread ;-)

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 Post subject: Re: Rachmaninov, Prelude Op. 23, No. 1 in F# minor
PostPosted: Thu Oct 25, 2012 7:34 pm 
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I should apologize too. I probably went over the top for the time and place as usual (though perchance Chris instigated it :wink: ). And David, I would like to point out that I have very much enjoyed many of your performances. I was trying to be helpful in my critique, but the fact that I wasn't convinced by this one may not necessarily be worth a hill of turds, especially considering it's been so long since I played this particular prelude.

Joe

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