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Rivalling Richter and Gilels

The piano scene, and a young musical stylist in the making, by BILL NEWMAN


The older I become, the less patience I have with musical organisations, critics, radio and TV announcers who eulogise about the wondrous achievements and communicative talents of chosen young pianists. In a rare BBC interview almost fifty years back, the great Benno Moiseiwitsch was asked for his opinion on the up-and-coming generation. Generally, he was full of praises for technical excellence but, to his regret, he found a true singing style and powers of communication lacking.

From about the 1930s onwards, the title 'Virtuoso' was reserved for an older, established international group of celebrities like Horowitz, Rubinstein, Rachmaninov, Hoffman, Cortot, Backhaus, Serkin, Kempff, Schnabel and so on, for their brilliant renditions, a recognised 'grand manner' approach or a commanding insight into urtext score editions, while valid impressions and memories of Chopin and Liszt's playing were handed down by pupils and musicologists. Then there was another section of enthusiasts who went to recitals by Lamond, Paderewski, Mark Hambourg, Pouishnoff, Jan Smeterlin, and a somewhat larger gathering of performers whose many talents graced those early shellac recordings -- of considerable rarity value to collectors.

An alternative term, virtuosic, has now crept into the accepted vocabularies of those 'experts' who consider themselves in the know.

It has become unfashionable to boo or hiss at musical events. But the choice is open to leave as quickly as possible with the minimum of fuss if the performance is too fast and loud, is regarded as a misrepresentation of familiar music, or makes no contribution at all to a particular composer's style and musical content. I vacated a recital recently by an international pianist whose playing is continually praised to the skies. I disliked the performances intensely, and was vaguely amused that my exit was marked by querulous shrugs and an undercurrent of amazed mutterings from critical colleagues.

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Copyright © 13 January 2004 Bill Newman, Edgware UK


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