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Rachmaninov CD's

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CICEROSC
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But, we have at least one composer here on the forum -- Christopher Schlegel -- so perhaps he may care to comment.

Rachmaninoff (and also Stravinsky) was not always pleased with the results of the early recording process. It is also documented that he was occassionally "nervous" or "uncomfortable" with the recording process. He actually did some early work with Edison's company. There is an excellent layman/beginner's book from the series of "The Illustrated Lives of the Great Composers: Rachmaninoff" by Robert Walker.

Rach book on Amazon

It does a good job chronicling the work Rach did for Victor, RCA & others in recording his works (& other works). Nevertheless, he was very interested in the idea of "recording for posterity" which is why we are fortunate enough to have the recordings we have. And the book claims through quotes attributed to conductor Stokowski that the tempi of many recorded works were explicitly set & specified by Rach himself. In fact, in several cases the record company requested "uncut" versions of certain longer works (in order to make a balanced set of discs) but Rach insisted on "tightening" up some structures.

There are specific liner notes in the "A Window In Time" CDs written by Wayne Stahnke, the man responsible for the transfer of the piano rolls to the digital recordings. In those extensive notes, among other things, he says, "...Rach was famous for playing a composition at the same tempo from one performance to the next, sometimes for many years." There are other musical texts/sources that can corroborate that not only was Rach consistent in his performance tempos, but also very good at returning to "tempo primo" from digressions, changes & firmatas.

There were also some issues involving undesired variations in speed & acceleration in some Ampico piano rolls & players. Mr. Stahnke makes it very, explicitly clear what those issues were & how he worked to successfully overcome them. Those liner notes can be accessed by going to http://mmd.foxtail.com/

You can then search their archives by author. I would normally just give a direct link to the individual page, but in this case the people that run the site specifically request that only their home page be linked. So if you are interested you can drill down through a bunch of stuff Mr. Stahnke posted. Including a really neat post in which he informs readers that he is (circa 1998) "currently" working on a deal to get his Rach roll-transfers commercially available.

Some performers do, in fact, increase their tempos in a live setting. Many do it without conscious intent; due to adrenaline, excitement, over-familiarity with the piece. In short, any number of superficial factors. Some do it intentionally, as a means of "livening up" old tunes that may have grown "stale". I can't see any of these being attributed to Rach's recorded works. He made all his recordings with the conscious intention of creating a "standard" to which others could refer. Remember that back in those days recording was still in it's infancy and the disappointment of the relatively poor results was far outweighed by the possibility of having an objective "standard" of an audio object created by the composer. Rach understood the situation & surely would not have wasted such a precious opportunity.

I don't know the source but I remember a Rach quote something like: Rach was so excited upon hearing a play back of his own playing he happily announced, "I, Sergei Rachmaninoff, have just heard myself play." I know the feeling. Having heard him play I can only say, thank you Mr. Rachmaninonff.

Christopher Schlegel

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Thanks for all the fascinating info, Christopher. Evidently Stahnke has received some criticism regarding the tempo and other issues in his transcription. In addition, he himself indicates that the issue of a fast tempo on recordings circa 1920 has been much discussed among audiophiles. Stahnke indicates that he matched the tempo of the music rolls to the timing on the disk recordings, thereby ignoring "the tempo indications of the piano rolls themselves." His detailed analysis and justification for this is interesting, as is his conclusion that the judgments regarding tempo and acceleration were "made on the basis of purely objective measurements." However, absent of explanation of fast tempo on the disk recordings of the time, I would have to reserve my own judgment.

I guess the bottom line for me is that, although no music has touched me as much as the music of Rachmaninoff, I prefer the tempo and emphasis of other performances of his work than his own. I know Rachmaninoff greatly appreciated Horowitz -- Horowitz and Rachmaninoff frequently gave private concerts together at his home -- and I personally enjoy Howowitz' playing of Rachmaninoff, but for me the performace of Rachmaninoff by Emil Gilels is supreme.

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Years ago I heard a recording of Rachmaninoff's 3rd Piano Concerto that used an alternative cadenza ... stunning, powerful beyond my ability to describe ... Unfortunately, I cannot remember the soloist or the conductor.

Since you posted, several people musically more knowledgeable than I, have made suggestions.

I have a strong suspicion I know the recording you're referring to. Most performers use a drawn-out version of the cadenza I don't care for. But BYRON JANIS, on an old RCA Victrola lp, played a short, REALLY INTENSE version of the cadenza that few others play. It has been reissued on an RCA Living Stereo cd:

1. Piano Concerto No. 1

Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Fritz Reiner

with

2. Piano Concerto No. 3

Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Charles Munch

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00...6832061-8176004

Hope that's it.

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Thanks for all the fascinating info, Christopher.

You are certainly welcome.

However, absent of explanation of fast tempo on the disk recordings of the time, I would have to reserve my own judgment.

Sure, good point. I am inclined to think of the actual recordings of Rach playing to be more of a standard. The few I have are faster in tempo than other performers/versions. Although there are questions & issues surrounding Stahnke's work, I think he deserves a great deal of credit for what he has done.

I guess the bottom line for me is that, although no music has touched me as much as the music of Rachmaninoff, I prefer the tempo and emphasis of other performances of his work than his own.

I can only hopelessly wish we had recordings of Beethoven with which to refer. I have strong favorites among his interpreters (Brendel, Perahia) & strong objections as well! All this goes a long way to emphasize the importance of performance & interpretation in realizing the original composition.

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Although there are questions & issues surrounding Stahnke's work, I think he deserves a great deal of credit for what he has done.

Yes, I agree. After reading Stahnke's detailed description of the process he used for the transcription, it is hard not to be impressed by his effort and dedication. Whether or not he was correct in all his judgments, it is clear that his approach is open and honest.

I can only hopelessly wish we had recordings of Beethoven with which to refer.  I have strong favorites among his interpreters (Brendel, Perahia) & strong objections as well!
Ha! Having recordings BY Beethoven. Now that would be something! I love some of Beethoven's work, especially his sonatas, but I have not explored varying interpretations of his work, as I have for Rachmaninoff.

All this goes a long way to emphasize the importance of performance & interpretation in realizing the original composition.

I have long wondered what it is must feel like for a composer to hear his work played by others. Painters, sculptors, and architects can read what others think of their work -- they can hear it analyzed and described -- but the composer's work is literally given concrete expression by the performer. At least I know that Rachmaninoff was greatly pleased by at least one who played his work.

In an interview, Horowitz reports that Kreisler had told Rachmaninoff that "some young Russian plays your Third Concerto and the Tchiakovsky Concerto like nothing I ever heard, and you have to meet him." Horowitz and Rachmaninoff met in Rachmaninoff's New York apartment in 1928, and Horowitz says:

"And so I came to Rachmaninoff, and it took five minutes and we were friends. In ten minutes he was playing for me.... Rachmaninoff then asked me to go to the famous Steinway basement, where he accompanied me on his Third Piano Concerto."

This was their first meeting -- just as if it was right out of a storybook.

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  • 2 weeks later...

CICEROSC, did you ever decide on any CDs? If so, do you like them?

Last weekend I loaded some of the similar pieces from my CDs of Rach performing & my "A Window In Time" CDs realized by Wayne Stahnke from Rach's piano rolls into my music editing software. Specifically I tried Chopin-Liszt "The Maiden's Wish", a Bach sarabande & a Schubert Impromtu.

The results were amazing. Some of the pieces has slightly different arrangements, but the tempos, phrasings & dynamics of the similar sections, themes, lines were so perfectly similar I could line them up right beside one another & it sounded like a stereo recording.

Obviously, it takes an enormous amount of skill to be able to perform like that.

I don't know if Stephen Speicher is still here or not (I read some of the thread concerning the unfortunate incident), but for anyone interested...as to "what it is must feel like for a composer to hear his work played by others". In my limited experience (solo pieces on piano & guitar; pop & jazz tunes played by small ensembles) it is somewhat analogous to marriage: when it works it's the greatest, when it doesn't it's the worst.

One particular example that illustrates the different (sometimes) conflicting aspects of this situation: I was fortunate enough to have an outstanding pianist play some of my compositions in a recital. She did an excellent job for the most part & I was grateful. But I also know she "appreciates some modern composers" (i.e. atonal BS) & in some small ways this tinged not only my appreciation but also her performance of my thoroughly tonal work.

Christopher Schlegel

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Has anyone heard the Koussevitsky direction of Rachmaninoff's Vocalise? I heard it once years ago and, because he took a much slower tempo than anyone else, it was one of the most emotionally intense experiences I've ever had.

Years ago I had the opportunity to hear Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra (Rachmaninoff's favorite) play an all-Rachmaninoff concert at the outdoor concert hall in Saratoga Springs. They opened with Eugene Ormandy's own orchestrated version of the Prelude in C-sharp Minor. How powerfully joyous he made it sound! At the end everyone around me, myself included, leaped to their feet! It took a while to get to the next piece---the Second Symphony---because no one felt like sitting down. I don't know about others, but when I feel that kind of thorough, intense emotion, which only music gives, I feel like I could push walls and blocks and rocks out of my path or, if there is any evil around, it had better get the Hell out of my way, for I will wipe it off the face of the earth!

I have also heard a beautiful orchestration of the Suite #1 for Two Pianos by Harkness. I forget her first name.

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I know for instance that he wrote his Concerto no. 3 less as a development upon a theme and more as a demonstration of his skill with a piano

How do you know that? Did you read that somewhere?

...(he had six fingers on at least one of his hands...

How do you know that?! I have never heard that; & every picture I have ever seen of his hands shows the standard 10 digits total. His hands were large & this led to spans of 13th intervals...but 6 fingers?

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One possibility is that he did it to challenge himself.

I know for instance that he wrote his Concerto no. 3 less as a development upon a theme and more as a demonstration of his skill with a piano (he had six fingers on at least one of his hands and wrote no. 3 with many very large chords to take advantage of that).  Perhaps he forced himself to play as fast as he could in order to made his pieces a further challenge to himself.

In the liner notes of a Rachmaninoff CD I have, he is quoted in an interview from 1923 where he says "Even with my own concertos I much prefer the third, because my second is so uncomfortable to play...." This would lead me to believe that his second is more technically difficult than the third.

As for his sixth finger, I am also curious where you came upon this information.

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