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<<  -- 4 --  Bill Newman    A SINGING INSTRUMENT

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What are the problems playing and recording Rachmaninov?

'There are certain passages in his Piano Concerto No 2 that I find very difficult, and are a challenge. There are other composers with whose music, to a certain degree, I have reached the point that I can cope comfortably, but never with Rachmaninov. Curiously, my Second Concerto / Paganini Rhapsody (EMI Classics for Pleasure) is a Gold Disc best-seller, but it is hard to maintain, for instance, that long line at the opening of the concerto. The tune goes on and on, a "song without end", and the moment you start sectionalising, it doesn't make sense. The solo pieces can be played more freely than one hears today, but in the concertos a good conductor should be aware of the balance between soloist and orchestra, keeping the brass instruments from playing too loudly, because of the pianistic detail.

'In my recording, this was possible through microphone placements. But sometimes not all the best "takes" are used and producers, no matter how good, cannot possibly know what I want, and may not be interested in the shape of a phrase but more intent on precision. I like to involve myself as far as possible. Standards have changed and imprecision is not possible, but before the War nobody would care about wrong notes! The clear sound on CD is not necessarily always helpful because everything is exposed. There is a lot to be said for analogue recording, but I was happy recording Schubert digitally at Norbury.'

In Brahms, how do you make all those notes sound, perform the music evenly and achieve the correct balance at the same time?

'The music is wonderfully well written. Brahms knew his instrument intimately, absorbing works by other composers, so his music is an extension of that already written. His expression is symphonic -- larger than life -- like the Piano Concerto No 1 (which is a symphony with piano).

Martino Tirimo. Photo © Nicos Louca
Martino Tirimo. Photo © Nicos Louca

'With small hands it is more difficult, and fortunately mine are quite large. Apart from technical problems, I try to see what the music expresses ... his world. It helps to understand the way the composer builds his work. What is the point of playing the right notes without knowing exactly what is happening? If there is a bassoon effect in the left hand (coda to the finale) I go for it.'

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Copyright © 22 December 2002 Bill Newman, Edgware, UK

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