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This is your chosen period in preference to classical and romantic compositions? 'I am getting more into the classics at this time, but I don't think I have lost my initial fascination with that period -- its music, art and world history. In Western civilisation, it was a momentous and ominous time. All those things make it special for me.'

Everyone plays the classics and romantics. 'Yes. But many don't approach them properly. It's not a question of originality; maybe it is the weight of performing tradition on one's shoulders. Why can't pieces by Bach or Beethoven be approached fundamentally in the same way? Their music couldn't be more different, but each of their works has something uniquely special, and the mechanisms for discovering something fresh in scores are not necessarily exclusive. There also have to be certain parallels between persons studying Bach and Beethoven, like various analytical techniques.'

But there is the danger of the artist who sometimes made the music sound more like a product of himself, like Michelangeli -- compared to the older school of Schnabel, Solomon, Arrau -- the specialists who 'identified' strongly with the creative geniuses behind the printed score. Perhaps an overview of past achievements in line with present day studies should be the desired aim? To lean on, or as a stopgap to fall back on. 'Yes. That's for sure. I do believe that you have to think very carefully. To absorb as much as possible about the work, and what surrounds it -- the composer, the context and history. This question of originality: every time I study a piece I try to think what is the composer's intention? What is he actually getting at? The markings are there in the score -- this is what he is telling you, really!' A mediator, in effect, between the composition and discovering the truth? 'With me, not yet -- but hopefully, yes, eventually!'

The poetic shimmerings of Ondine, the ominous tolling of the bell in Le Gibet, and Scarbo appearing unexpectedly almost by accident and frightening the young girl, who half wishes to befriend him ... introspective, very suggestive, all at the same time in Ravel's score. 'These pieces are very close to my heart, and so often they are looked on as pinnacles of virtuosity, which is a mistake. As soon as you approach them as a virtuoso study, it kills them. I can't speak for all his works, but it is very rare that such a piece comes so close to poetry. Although there is this link here between the music and the poems, they become companions that belong together programmatically. Like the end of Ondine where she bursts out laughing, cries and disappears down the window pane. It's almost as if the music is incidental, like in a play. That is the essence of the whole work; it has to be a picture in sound, as difficult as it may be. The technique is fiendish, but it has to all remain in the background.'

One of Lord Menuhin's last comments on television was that every artist should be aware at a certain stage that technique should give way, and the music take over. Some artists believe that inspiration comes direct to them out of the skies. 'This is indeed a shame. It sells the music short, and my current teacher is extolling the idea that we should feel privileged and darn lucky to be able to play music by the great composers -- whoever they may be. Most people admit this, but I don't know whether everyone grasps what it means, and what responsibilities this puts on you. Not just towards the composer, but to the audience -- the people to whom you present and show that this is Great Art. Although there are few who can put it across that fantastically, this is what one has to strive for.'

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Copyright © 15 April 2003 Bill Newman, Edgware, UK


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