Friday, April 17, 2015

Pianists of the post-Liszt Era - What Does the Vorsetzer Tell Us?...

The miracle called Vorsetzer gives us the exact manner of presentation, as regards the piano luminaries from  the period directly after Liszt through the first two decades of the 20th century(do refer to my blog on the Vorsetzer, if you are not familiar with this defining invention). We hear not only the notes played, but dynamics, phrasing etc. - in other words, a true Time Capsule.
I must divulge to you a reaction that strikes me when I decide to listen to some of these recordings; and that is by way of a question - am I listening, at least in part, to a Dog and Pony Show?
 The piano playing is, for the most part, sensational. The enormous level of radiation emanating from the Lisztian Experience created a plethora of technical giants, which even in our day (and we know a century more about the technology of performance) continues to dazzle us with their levels of  technicality.
But through all of the aural luminescence created by these seemingly super-humans disguised as pianists, I find that the ultimate prize that must obviously be sought  after and assimilated; namely, the making of music - well, I am not often enough witness to it.
For example, in a Vorsetzer recording by Eugen d'Albert, one of only two Liszt students who recorded  by way of this process, I find a fatuous, overly wrought reading of the Liebestraume, aided by a rubato that, for me, is overdone and gives me an example of quasi-narcissism , which does not belong here.
The recording by d'Albert is dated 1913, and many of the Vorsetzer recordings occurred during the first decade of the century, which places these recordings, therefore, in the post -Liszt period.
Another example: Busoni plays a piano transcription from "Rigoletto." Again, the piano playing is positively stupendous in its technical level; however, Busoni's  musical sense is, essentially, naive. The fits and starts  that Busoni gives this listener adds to a kind of artificiality that makes me most uncomfortable.
A recording by Debussy of his "La Plus que Lente" is  so offhanded and  strangely diffident, that it never fails to surprise and disappoint me.
The legendary Paderewski gives me his vaunted piano playing, but very little more.
And on it goes, at least for me.
And so the Base Question, to me,  appears to be " is (was) this period  one of  a  need to prioritize the Playing of the Piano, rather than the Making of Music, because of the Power of Influence created by Franz Lizst?"
I hasten to point out that some truly great music making on Vorsetzer IS extant; for example, the playing of Lhevinne and Hoffmann should be noted.
And was it the likes of a Rachmaninoff;  then a Serkin, or an Arrau, or a Rubinstein or a Horowitz, who reminded the world of pianists that "it takes ten percent of the time to study the notes, and ninety percent of the time to decide what to do with the notes,"  rather than the other way around?
Believe me, I have thought long and hard about the post-Liszt Period, and continue to do so, from time to time...



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