Speaking of Classical Music

I promise not to bore my non-classical-music-loving readers with this part of my life often, but my post yesterday comparing skills and knowledge got me thinking about piano again, so I was thinking back to some old pieces that I had started on and never finished. I have CDs of many of them so I was going back for a listen. The real danger of iTunes is that you suddenly have a world of music at your fingertips, and can go find, download, and listen to anything immediately. This can be a problem for the credit card if you lack self-discipline. But you can tell the pieces I’ve always been in love with by how many different recordings I have of them. One thing I never got to do when I played was play a piano concerto. One of my great disappointments in life that I never had the discipline to complete one when I could play. One day, when I have a lot of free time, I might finally learn one and then go find a local amateur orchestral group to play it with. It’s an oversight I’d really like to fix someday.

I started, but never finished Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor. You could just as easily say the Grieg Piano Concerto, because he only ever wrote but one. It’s fairly well recognized even by non-classical music fans though, and most people are familiar with the first couple of measures of the piece. I have only one recording of it though, by Pianist Santiago Rodriguez. Rodriguez is an excellent Pianist, but his interpretation of these pieces is a bit too fast tempo for my liking. Excessive tempo is a common pet peeve of mine in classical recordings. I feel that often a slower, more deliberate pace allows more of the color in the piece to come out. One exception to this is the complete recording of Beethoven’s Symphonies by John Eliot Gardiner and the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique, which are at faster tempi than normally recorded, and on period instruments. In this case I believe the pieces are enhanced by the faster tempo, and the period instrumentation and orchestra size produces a very clean sound. It’s so good I have a hard time listening to a slower recording with a modern orchestra without thinking how much better this recording sounds.

But back to the Grieg. I was looking for a different take on his piano concerto, so I just downloaded, and am really enjoying Arthur Rubinstein’s recording with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy conducting. It’s a slower, more expressive pace than the Rodriguez recording, but hey, it’s also Rubinstein, who is regarded as one of the great pianists, if not the greatest pianists of the 20th century. Along with the recording of the Grieg Piano Concerto I get yet another recording of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto Number 2 in C Minor. I have two others, one by Earl Wild, and the other by Vladimir Ashkenazy. I’m probably more partial to the Ashkenazy performance than I am by the Earl Wild performance, but there’s much to be said for both of them. We’ll see how I end up liking Rubinstein’s take of the piece.

6 thoughts on “Speaking of Classical Music”

  1. Fantastic post. Thanks! Firearms are not the only “simple” pleasures in life!

  2. I have to say, piano isn’t my favorite to listen to – probably something to do with the pain of having to learn it in college – but I do make exceptions in certain cases.

  3. I actually kinda like these little segments. I can’t play, but I do love classical music, mostly Tchaikovsky, Holst and Prokofiev. A good march on a 500 watt sound system makes an excellent soundtrack for gun maintenance.

  4. With Rubinstein, Horowitz, Serkin, and Ashkenazy sharing the same century (not to mention Brendel and Perahia) choosing one “best” can be tough.

    Go-fast may be irritating, but in my listening I’ve found much more go-sloooow. Get on with it already!

    It’s nice to know you like good music as well as good firearms.

  5. Fast or slow is always conditional. I always liked Rubinstein’s more methodical and deliberate interpretation of the third movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata than, say, the recording I have of Daniel Barenboim, which is more interpretative and expressive. To me the relentless rhythm and pace is the real driving force behind that piece. If you want interpretive and expressive, the Apassionata leaves much room for such things. I love Barenboim’s performance of that piece.

    The one piece where tempo is a real issue for me is in one of the pieces I did play, which was Mozart’s Piano Sonata Number 11. The third movement, “Alla Turca” is usually played way way too fast, even by professionals quite often. Horowitz got it right, and when I played it I went with his speed, even though not with his talent. It’s supposed to be at a marching pace, since it’s in the style of a Turkish military band. At the rate most people play it, you’d tire your soldiers out before they got to the battle.

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